As the N.C. Supreme Court is considering its next steps in the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit, Gov. Roy Cooper has added a new twist to the dispute.
Cooper’s proposed 2022-23 state budget adjustments would cover portions of a court-ordered Leandro compliance plan that remain unfunded to date. The governor unveiled his recommendations Wednesday afternoon.
The governor recommends his budget adjustments to the General Assembly. State lawmakers will decide whether to accept any of Cooper’s ideas.
Under the heading “Ensuring a Sound Basic Education,” Cooper’s budget document says the plan “Provides $525.8 million to increase access to a sound, basic education for North Carolina’s children by fully funding Year Three of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan, as well as studies called for in Year Two but not funded in SL 2021-180.”
The CRP is the official name of the court-ordered plan designed to resolve the Leandro school funding lawsuit. Developed by a San Francisco-based consultant, the multiyear plan eventually would cost state taxpayers at least $5.6 billion.
On Nov. 10, 2021, the trial judge overseeing the Leandro case ordered state officials to transfer $1.75 billion out of the state treasury to pay for items in years two and three of the CRP.
That order led to a constitutional separation-of-powers dispute. The dispute eventually moved the Leandro case back to the state Supreme Court. In preparation for reviewing the case, the high court sent the case back to the trial judge. Justices ordered the trial court to determine how the 2021-23 state budget plan (Session Law 2021-180) affected the $1.75 billion order. Cooper signed the budget on Nov. 18, 2021, eight days after the Leandro spending order.
On the same day that the Supreme Court kicked the case back to the trial court, Chief Justice Paul Newby replaced trial Judge David Lee with Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson. Newby and Robinson are Republicans. Lee is a Democrat.
Robinson issued an amended order on April 26. He determined that $785 million of the original items in the $1.75 billion plan remained unfunded. Unlike Lee, the new judge did not order any money to be transferred to cover the unfunded items.
The state Supreme Court has remained silent in the Leandro case in the two weeks since Robinson issued his order.
Now Cooper’s proposed budget has added new information to the discussion. The governor’s budget document explains how his budget adjustments would address unfunded CRP items.
“Of these funds, $33.1 million develops a skilled educator pipeline and builds educator and principal capacity; $370.1 million provides fair and equitable distribution of financial resources; $19.9 million supports low-performing schools and districts; $89.7 expands access to high-quality early childhood education for children from birth to age five; and $13 million creates a guided pathway from high school to postsecondary education and career opportunities.”
Cooper offers these proposals as state lawmakers prepare to return to work May 18. The new legislative session will address budget adjustments and other issues.