From AP News:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s Supreme Court returned Thursday to its landmark 2022 ruling on education funding that permitted use of taxpayer funds to fix unconstitutional inequities statewide without legislators’ express approval. Republican lawmakers who opposed the decision want to see it pulled back by a court that has since shifted from a Democratic majority to GOP control.

Hundreds of education and civil rights advocates rallied near the Supreme Court building as the case began. The Rev. William Barber, who leads the national nonprofit Repairers of the Breach, said both Democratic and Republican leaders are to blame for failing to implement earlier Leandro decisions. But the GOP attempt to scale back the 2022 ruling is particularly onerous, he said. “The Leandro case is being brought back before the North Carolina Supreme Court by extremists,” Barber said. Read more…

From EdNC:

A few hundred people gathered outside the N.C. Supreme Court on Thursday morning to call on the state to fully fund the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan. Inside, the court heard oral arguments in the case again. The political makeup of the Supreme Court has shifted since its November 2022 decision — from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican majority.

Rev. William Barber II, a minister and social activist, urged people to vote to protect public education. “Let’s use our power,” he told the crowd. “We’ve got the power to save our schools. Let’s use it now.” Action4Equity Winston-Salem’s Rev. Paul Robeson Ford helped lead the rally and issued a call to protect the right to a sound, basic education. Read more…

From WITN Greenville:

RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) – A landmark education lawsuit, Leandro vs State of NC, was back in the spotlight this morning as the State Supreme Court revisited the decades-long case yet again, prompting rallies in the state capital.

In Raleigh today, Civil Rights Activist Rev. William Barber and Every Child NC, rallied to demand lawmakers fulfill what they said is their duty to every child’s education statewide. The Leandro vs State of NC case mandated quality education and fully funded schools for all. But for 30 years, many who support the case feel politicians have turned a blind eye to fulfilling it.

“With the money Wayne County could have received, my school could have done so much. Maybe we could have gotten rid of the mice in my 7th-grade math teacher’s classroom,” Wayne County 8th grader, Madalo Bean said. Read more…

From Greensboro News & Record:

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Supreme Court recently returned to its landmark 2022 ruling on education funding that permitted use of taxpayer funds to fix unconstitutional inequities statewide without legislators’ express approval. Republican lawmakers who opposed the decision want to see it pulled back by a court that has since shifted from a Democratic majority to GOP control.

The court’s current seven justices — five of whom are registered Republicans — heard arguments in downtown Raleigh from an attorney for the GOP legislative leaders as well as lawyers representing school districts and the state who want the decision from over a year ago to be undisturbed. At that time, Democrats held a 4-3 seat majority until Republicans won elections for two seats.

With the partisan shift in effect, the GOP justices agreed last fall to consider additional arguments sought by House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, who still contend the state constitution makes clear only the General Assembly can appropriate state funds.

The justices decided the matter would be narrowed upon whether Superior Court Judge James Ammons, the latest to oversee the litigation originating almost 30 years ago, had authority last spring to enter an order declaring the state owed $678 million to fulfill two years of an eight-year comprehensive remedial plan.

But legal briefs filed for Berger and Moore essentially seek to cancel the November 2022 decision. Action by an Ammons predecessor, the late Judge David Lee, who approved the initial plan that would ultimately lead to $5.4 billion in annual spending and ordered some taxpayer funds be moved, served as the focus of the 2022 ruling.

Other legal parties say Ammons’ statewide order must be upheld and implemented to carry out Supreme Court decisions in the case from 1997 and 2004 affirming that the state constitution directs all children must receive the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” They say it’s the judiciary’s job to fix statewide constitutional deficiencies in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade instruction that the executive and legislative branches haven’t addressed.

But the legislators’ attorneys say there’s never been a legal determination that school districts beyond rural Hoke and Halifax counties had failed to live up to that standard. And, the lawyers argue, school funding decisions are political questions that judicial branch must avoid.

“This is not a contest between those who want to fund education and those who don’t,” Matthew Tilley, an attorney for the GOP legislators, said at the start of nearly 1 1/2 hours of arguments. “Instead, the case is about whether the trial court, when presented with only district-specific claims, had jurisdiction to issue … sweeping statewide orders” with a plan that dictates education policy in all districts, he added.

The attorneys supporting the plan — which in part includes funding to improve teacher recruitment and salaries, expand pre-K and help students with disabilities — argue it was past time, procedurally, for Moore and Berger to relitigate the 2022 decision, and the case shouldn’t have resurfaced. The litigation began in 1994, when several school districts and families of children sued and accused the state of state law and constitutional violations. The case is often referred to as “Leandro” — for the last name of one of the students who sued.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of students are still struggling to read at grade level, said Melanie Dubis, who represents many of the districts. They will “become the third generation of children since this lawsuit was filed to pass through our state school system without the benefit of relief if this court takes away from them” the 2022 order for more state education funding, she told the justices.

The justices didn’t immediately rule, with March 22 their next opinion date. The new Republican majority has ruled favorably for GOP legislators by striking down previous redistricting decisions and upholding a photo mandate for voter identification.

Democratic Justices Anita Earls and Allison Riggs read from earlier court decisions that they said stated plainly a statewide remedy had been authorized. Republican Justice Richard Dietz pondered whether affirming the remedial plan would wrongly close off future groups of students or parents from successfully suing for public education deficiencies.

“I’m not concerned about the legislature. I’m concerned about students — it’s their rights being violated,” Dietz said.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is not a named legal party in the case but supports carrying out the plan that his administration helped create. In a news release before Thursday’s arguments, Cooper asked: “Will our Supreme Court be courageous enough to protect those children, or will it once again protect the power of the politicians?”

Hundreds of education and civil rights advocates rallied near the Supreme Court building as the case began. The Rev. William Barber, who leads the national nonprofit Repairers of the Breach, said both Democratic and Republican leaders are to blame for failing to implement earlier Leandro decisions. But the GOP attempt to scale back the 2022 ruling is particularly onerous, he said.

“The Leandro case is being brought back before the North Carolina Supreme Court by extremists,” Barber said.

Republican leaders have previously countered that K-12 funding continues to grow, taking up close to 40% of the state’s roughly $30 billion annual budget. The GOP-led legislature has also greatly broadened expansion of taxpayer-funded scholarships for K-12 students to attend private schools.

Click here to watch the arguments at Thursday’s hearing.

 

 

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