GOP is ready to oppose court on school funding


Educators fill the Bicentennial Plaza during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, NC, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Thousands of teachers gathered in the state capital to seek a political showdown on wages and funding for public school classes.

Educators fill the Bicentennial Plaza during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, NC, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Thousands of teachers gathered in the state capital to seek a political showdown on wages and funding for public school classes.


Superior Court Justice David Lee set state lawmakers a deadline in mid-October to comply with decisions on Leandro’s decade-long school funding case. These decisions require lawmakers to fund public schools at a level that enables every student to receive a “solid basic education,” as the North Carolina Constitution provides.

In June, Lee approved a “comprehensive recovery plan” to achieve adequate levels of funding by 2028. The plan was agreed by the Leandro plaintiffs – five rural school districts – as well as the State Board of Education and the governor. But Republican legislators are reluctant to say that the legislature controls the wallet and that courts cannot dictate the amount of spending.

Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate Chairman Phil Berger, put it bluntly: “If Judge Lee wants to have a say in how government funds are spent – a role that has been reserved exclusively for the legislature since the state was founded – then Judge Lee should” for a seat run in the House of Representatives or the Senate. There the constitution orders that decisions about the state budget are made, and not by a district judge. “

What ought to be a matter of simple decency and smart investments – adequate promotion of the education of children, especially children in low-income areas – becomes a constitutional clash between two state governments. If lawmakers fail to do so, the matter will likely land in the state’s Supreme Court. The court, now with a 4-3 Democratic majority, likely will confirm Lee’s order.

Then what? Then apparently nothing, according to the legal scholars. The court might despise lawmakers in trying to impose fines, but it can’t ultimately force lawmakers to spend more than they want, they told editors.

Darrell AH Miller, a Duke Law professor who teaches constitutional law, state and local government law, and legal history, noted that courts can interpret the law but are virtually powerless to impose it on any other branch of government.

“Alexander Hamilton said the judiciary didn’t have the wallet. It has no armies. It only has judgment, ”said Miller. “We hope people will say, ‘The Constitution says that and I have an obligation to do so.’ ”

When a lawmaker refuses to accept the court’s authority, it’s a dead end, Miller said. He found that Ohio a similar lengthy confrontation between the courts and lawmakers on school funding and the Ohio Supreme Court eventually gave up the issue. The legislature, he said, “just waited for them.”

Ted Shaw, a UNC chapel law professor who teaches constitutional law, said the court had solid ground for ordering an increase in school funding once the need was established. While branches of government are on an equal footing, he said, “There is more authority on the court side when it comes to saying what an appeal to a liability determination should be.”

But when lawmakers denied not only the appeal but also the judicial authority to impose it, he said, “You have a showdown in the end and there is no clear answer on how to resolve this.”

What is particularly noticeable about this situation is the level of neglect of the law. There is no need to confront the court like this. The restructuring plan is within the scope of the legislator’s possibilities.

The plan calls for lawmakers to approve at least $ 5.6 billion in new education funding by 2028. This year alone, the state has more than $ 6.5 billion in surplus.

Governor Roy Coopers proposed two-year budget tries to cover the initial cost of the plan, but the budgets proposed by the House and Senate are very tight. Legislative leaders are determined to stick to this line even as they propose further tax cuts.

A Republican-led legislature that quickly reduced the governor’s powers and changed the choice of judges now insists on legislative independence. It’s another example of Republican lawmakers who, instead of serving the law, expect the law to serve them, even at the expense of school children.

If Republican lawmakers defy Judge Lee, it should deliver a verdict they cannot ignore by the court of public opinion.


What is the editorial team?

The editorial offices of Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer joined forces in 2019 to bring our readers a wider, more diverse range of North Carolina opinionated content. The editorial team works independently of the editorial offices in Charlotte and Raleigh and has no influence on the work of the reporting and editing. The joint board is led by NC Opinion Editor Peter St. Onge, joined by award-winning News & Observer writer Ned Barnett in Raleigh and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Kevin Siers in Charlotte. Board members also include News & Observer President and Editor Robyn Tomlin, Observer President and Editor Sherry Chisenhall, opinion author Sara Pequeño in Raleigh, opinion intern Paige Masten in Charlotte, and longtime News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders. For questions about the Board of Directors or our editorials, email [email protected]

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