Lawmakers react to judge’s ruling on school funding

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – As North Carolina public schools face another month in the fiscal year and nearly four full years without a comprehensive state budget, a superior court judge on Wednesday ordered state finance executives to move $1.7 billion in unused funds to education agencies, allowing 30 days to do so.

“Well the reason it’s called a “crisis” is because it’s an unanswered question,” UNC’s Eric Houck said. “The legislature has authority to make laws and to provide funding for all sorts of state operations, and the courts have the ability to rule things to be constitutional or unconstitutional and to demand remedies. So in this case, the court is doing exactly what it’s allowed to do, it’s asking for a remedy to a constitutional question.”

But the order is just that, according to Houck, who’s an associate professor at UNC’s School of Education.

“So, unless the legislature agrees with the court, we’re just gonna have the standoff.”

Superior Court Judge David Lee’s order comes as part of the Leandro case where the term “sound basic education,” was often used.

The case in 1994 involved families from 5 low-wealth counties who sued the state claiming the educational opportunities provided weren’t equal compared to what was provided in higher-income districts.

Sen. Don Davis (D-Pitt, Greene) said the budget is an ongoing process.

“Budget negotiation, that entails often back and forth,” Davis said. “But what I would love to be clear about is education is at the forefront often in a lot of these conversations.”

Sen. Michael Lazzara (R-Jones, Onslow) said legislators are doing “all the right things to fund education.”

“I think what we have to look at is how do we manage better to make sure that we’re maximizing our dollars and efficiencies and that we’re taking care of our educators,” Lazzara said.

After Judge Lee’s order, a joint statement from Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore was released.

“This case has devolved into an attempt by politically allied lawyers and the Governor to enact the Governor’s preferred budget plan via court order, cutting out the legislature from its proper and constitutional role,” the statement said. “If Judge Lee’s orders are followed, the legislature’s core duty is usurped by unelected county-level trial judge and an out-of-state consultancy funded by the Governor and his political allies.

NCAE President Tamika Kelly released the following statement.

“For more than 27 years, North Carolina students have waited for the state to fulfill its obligation to provide a high-quality public education to every child, no matter their color, background or zip code. Our kids can’t wait any longer. Teachers and school staff are tired and frustrated by consistently being asked to do more with less, especially in low-wealth school districts. If our state legislature refuses to fully fund our schools, we support Judge Lee’s order because every child has a right to a high-quality education.”

Dr. Dan Novey at East Carolina University said Judge Howard Manning, who presided over the Leandro case before Judge Lee, has tried to get the state to provide appropriate funding for smaller counties that don’t have the local effort many other counties have.

He added if you’re able to have the resources and use them wisely, great things can happen, including academic success.

“The largest amount of money, it comes from the state. It’s a state curriculum, it is the state’s responsibility,” Novey said. “Everything that was earmarked for this kind of funding is on hold, so we continue to make do and you don’t make more with less. You make less with less.”

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