With the GOP controlling the NC Supreme Court, many are concerned about Leandro’s funding

RALEIGH – The fate of a court order to increase funding for public schools is uncertain after Republicans gained control of the state Supreme Court on Election Day.

The recent 4-3 ruling in the long-running Leandro school funding case was split along partisan lines, with all four Democrats backing the executive order that required state leaders to increase education funding.

But last week’s election of two Republicans resulted in a 5-2 GOP majority. This could end a contentious dispute between the two parties, whether politicians or judges.

“Prognosis: Ultimately not a dime of taxpayer money will be spent on this unprecedented and unconstitutional order before it is blocked and reversed by a newly installed NC Supreme Court next year,” Brent Woodcox, a legislative attorney for Senate Chairman Phil Berger, said in a tweet.

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But supporters of the court ruling say the Supreme Court’s new GOP majority should allow enforcement of the money transfer.

“To go back and change a historic decision so quickly would really damage the legitimacy of the court,” said Matt Ellinwood, director of the Education & Law Project at the left-leaning NC Justice Center. “People would not know how to obey the laws of the state when they can change so easily because of the composition of the court.”

The Leandro School Funding Lawsuit was originally filed by wealthy school districts in 1994 to obtain more government funding. Over the years, the state Supreme Court has ruled that the North Carolina Constitution guarantees every child “the opportunity to receive a solid basic education” and that obligation has not been honored.

Last November, the late Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered the state treasurer, controller and budget director to transfer $1.75 billion to fund the next two years of a plan developed by a consultant. The plan seeks to provide every student with highly qualified teachers and principals.

A state appeals court blocked enforcement of the order.

However, the Supreme Court’s Democratic majority upheld Lee’s verdict and directed the new trial judge to determine how much to wire. The court majority said it must intervene “to protect and uphold the constitutional rights of North Carolina schoolchildren.”

But in the disagreement, the GOP judges said the issue is how the “educational institution” uses its money, not whether the General Assembly allocates enough funds.

Melanie Dubis, the lead attorney representing the school districts in the case, said the court ruling was a “defense of the rights of school children across the state.” Dubis said there is no procedural mechanism for matters already decided by one court to be reconsidered by a new one.

“If the court tries to reconsider the 140-page report — this well-researched report — after the election, it will lose any semblance of independence or integrity it ever had,” Dubis said.

The next big legal move will come when it comes time to enforce the money transfer, paving the way for possible appeals from lawmakers or others involved in the lawsuit.

“The recent decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to wire all this Treasury money and attempt to unilaterally appropriate it is ridiculous and totally unconstitutional,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement. ‚ÄúThat is something that this General Assembly does not support at all.

“We will continue to review where we stand legally and I am confident we will be looking at that again soon.”

But David Hinojosa, attorney for the NAACP’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch, said it was “completely unjustified” to delay enforcement. Hinojosa, whose clients are plaintiffs in the case, said the public relies heavily on court sanctity to respect precedent.

“The last thing the public would want would be an activist court reviving legal issues that have already been decided without good reason other than disagreeing with the previous decision,” Hinojosa said.

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