Nearly three decades since its initiation, the protracted legal battle over education funding in North Carolina is set to resume with fresh arguments at the North Carolina Supreme Court. Originating in 1994 as the “Leandro” case, the dispute centers on allegations of state law and constitutional violations regarding education, presenting a complex narrative that has endured various legal twists and turns.
North Carolina Supreme Court’s Latest Decision and Political Shift
Scheduled for February 22, 2023, the upcoming oral arguments mark a significant development in the case, as the North Carolina Supreme Court revisits the matter less than 16 months after a pivotal 4-3 opinion in November 2022. During this ruling, a majority of justices, all registered Democrats at the time, granted a trial judge the authority to order the transfer of taxpayer dollars without explicit approval from the General Assembly. This allocation aimed to address longstanding education inequities, forming part of an eight-year plan.
Since the 2022 decision, a notable shift has occurred in the composition of the court, now leaning towards a 5-2 GOP majority. In October, Republican justices agreed to hear an appeal from legislative leaders challenging whether Judge James Ammons had the authority to order the state to pay $678 million to fulfill a two-year portion of the eight-year plan. The central issue revolves around the question of whether the judge can unilaterally rule on matters affecting public education statewide.
Ongoing Disputes and Arguments
Republican legislative leaders vehemently oppose the November 2022 ruling, contending that state funds can only be allocated with explicit approval from the General Assembly. They argue that there has been no legal determination establishing statewide failures by school districts to meet the constitutional requirement, affirmed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1997 and 2004, ensuring every child the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”
Associate Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat, expressed disagreement in October, asserting that the matter should not be revisited. She emphasized that an earlier trial judge had indeed found a statewide constitutional violation regarding education inequities, justifying the need for a comprehensive statewide remedy.
Notably, lawyers representing several school districts in economically disadvantaged counties have filed arguments against revisiting the case. They contend that the matter was settled in November 2022, urging the court not to reopen what they consider a concluded chapter in the state’s education funding history.
As North Carolina gears up for another chapter in this longstanding legal saga, the implications of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s impending decision could have far-reaching consequences for the state’s education system and funding allocation practices.