The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the state was failing in its constitutional obligation to adequately educate all of the state’s children. Since that ruling the legislature has done nothing but move backwards in its fund allocations for public school . The Republican-led legislature instead has chosen dramatic tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy leaving our children paying the price.
Most recently Chief Justice Paul Newby inexplicably replaced Judge David Lee, a Democrat, who was overseeing the implementation of the state’s Constitutional guarantee with Republican judge, and former classmate, Justice Michael Robinson.
Judge Lee’s November 2021 order to the legislature was to provide the funding laid out in the Leandro plan which calls for $1.7 billion being allocated to schools. Republicans have deemed Lee’s order a “gross overreach” and have “strongly advocated” for Lee’s removal from the bench. Judge Newby, in lock step with Republicans, then removed Lee from the case.
WRAL wrote in an editorial last week:
“State business court Judge Michael Robinson, has a simple assignment issued last week from the state Supreme Court.
FIRST: “Determine what effect, if any, the enactment of the State budget has upon the nature and extent of relief that the trial court granted in its 11 November 2021 order.”
THEN: “Make any necessary findings of fact and conclusion of law and to certify any amended order that it chooses.”
The editorial goes on to point out that while the state coffers are sitting on an $8 billion surplus, well over four times the amount needed, Republicans still refuse to meet their financial obligation to students. And while this should be a simple process it has been intentionally complicated and slowed by red tape and minutiae.
Those who are looking to subvert the state’s obligation to our children and public schools want to get the judge bogged down in miniscule details of state budgets and spending – such as how a check gets written. More significantly, they want him to review the state budget to see if it includes “alternative means to providing a sound basic education.” It is not only about a “sound” basic education. It is about the promise of a “quality” basic education.
All of this begs the question, why do Republicans continue to refuse North Carolina’s children a quality education? Why are they willing to undermine our courts and potentially the separation of powers in order to prevent it? Whatever the answers, the ball now lies in Judge Robinson’s court and only time will tell if he does the right thing in compelling the state to meet its legal obligation.