State Supreme Court wants reassessment of $1.7 billion education spending order – Carolina Journal

The North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to return to the longstanding legal dispute over state school funding. The court wants a trial judge to assess the impact of the new state budget on a $1.7 billion order for additional state education spending.

A Supreme Court order issued late Monday grants the demands of the office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and the plaintiffs in the case called Hoke County Board of Education v. North Carolina State. Both urged the Supreme Court to remove the case from the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

State legislative leaders had asked the Supreme Court not to intervene.

Before Supreme Court justices intervene, they want a new review of retired Union County Judge David Lee’s November 2021 order to transfer $1.7 billion from the Treasury to the state for educational expenditure.

“This matter is remanded to Wake County Superior Court for up to thirty days for the purpose of allowing the trial court to determine what effect, if any, the enactment of the state budget has on the nature and extent of the relief that the trial court granted in its order of November 11, 2021,” according to the Supreme Court’s order. “The trial court is responsible for making all findings of fact and necessary conclusions of law and to certify any amended order that he chooses to bring before the Court no later than the thirtieth day after the entry of this order.”

“Upon the trial court certifying to this Court any amended order it chooses to make, this Court will make any further orders governing the proceedings to be followed in this matter as it deems necessary, the Supreme Court added. . . “In the meantime, the otherwise applicable timetable for the filing of factums in this case is suspended pending a further order of the Court.”

Terry Stoops, director of the John Locke Foundation’s Center for Effective Education, has been following the case closely. “Governor Roy Cooper signed a bipartisan state budget designed to address the unique educational and mental health needs of children harmed by measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID,” Stoops said. “The plan comprehensive fix formulated by a California-based consultant and endorsed by Judge Lee is inconsistent with our post-pandemic educational environment. Judge Lee should take this opportunity to rework the recovery plan incorporating input from lawmakers and other stakeholders previously ignored in this process.

Before the Supreme Court intervened, the legal dispute over Lee’s order sat in the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

A Feb. 28 brief from state lawmakers explained why they believe the Court of Appeals should continue to hear the case. Republican legislative leaders opposed the demands of plaintiffs and the Stein State Department of Justice.

“Although the DOJ and plaintiffs urge the Court with ever-increasing fervor to bypass the Court of Appeals and take up this case immediately, such an extraordinary measure is not warranted at this time,” according to the brief. attorney Matthew Tilley, representing legislative leaders. . “As it stands, this case does not provide a means of deciding the ‘urgent’ and ‘significant’ constitutional issues that the Justice Department and plaintiffs are asking the Court to consider, nor does it provide an opportunity to give “final and definitive answers” resolving this dispute”.

Legal battles over NC education funding date back to 1994, with the filing of a case now known as Leandro for short. The disputes have resulted in two state Supreme Court rulings, the most recent in 2004.

The final point of contention concerns Lee’s Nov. 10 order. As part of a settlement reached between plaintiffs and Justice Department attorneys, and approved by Lee, the judge ordered state officials to transfer $1.7 billion from the North Carolina Treasury for education-related expenses. That money would fund parts of the deal, officially known as the Global Recovery Plan. Lee’s order bypassed the General Assembly.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals blocked Lee’s order. Appeals judges ruled that Lee had no authority to transfer money without the permission of lawmakers.

The passing of a state budget last fall is expected to impact the case, the legislative defendants argued. Gov. Roy Cooper signed that budget “just eight days after” Lee’s spending order, Tilley wrote.

“The DOJ largely ignores passage of the budget bill in its petition; Plaintiffs never mention it at all,” he explained. “Instead, the DOJ and plaintiffs persistently argue that Superior Court Judge W. David Lee entered the Nov. 10 order because the General Assembly allegedly ‘failed’ or ‘refused’ to fund the full turnaround plan.”

“But Judge Lee made it clear in his order that he believed such an extreme remedy was only justified because at the time he entered it there was no budget,” wrote Tilly. “The adoption of the budget made this assumption moot”

Beyond the impact of the state budget, legislative defendants have focused on the importance of the separation of powers of government from the state.

“As the DOJ questions whether the judiciary can transfer funds [of] state treasury to ‘cure constitutional violations’ is an open question, it is not,” Tilley wrote. “This Court has always held that ‘the appropriation of funds from the public treasury is a power vested exclusively in the legislature’ and that the judiciary ‘has no[s] the power to “order state officials to take money out of the public treasury”.

“This is because ‘the power of the stock exchange is the exclusive prerogative of the General Assembly,'” according to the lawmakers’ brief. “And, therefore, ‘the separation of powers clause prevents the judiciary from accessing public funds on its own’, even if it is to remedy the violation of another constitutional provision indicating how these funds are to be used.”

Cooper and Stein, both Democrats, clashed with the Republican-led General Assembly over legal issues.

Republicans outnumber Democrats, 10 to 5, on the Court of Appeals. The Democrats hold a 4-3 advantage over the Supreme Court. But two Democratic High Court seats are up for grabs this year.

Had the case gone through the normal appeals process, Republicans may have regained a majority on the Supreme Court by the time the school funding dispute reaches them.

The Supreme Court’s timetable is expected to return the case to the justices by mid-April.

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