Editorial: Obey the judge. Fund our schools or lose in court

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 -- Rather than look for ways to build a top-quality public education system for all of North Carolina's children legislative leaders are engaged in a cynical strategy to enrage and divide. One way or another, Judge David Lee's order will bring a stop to that behavior.

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Judge issues ruling on NC school funding
CBC Editorial: Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021; Editorial #8716
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

Judge David Lee couldn’t have been more direct and on target.

Take responsibility and stop playing the blame game.

It is the time for action not procrastination and obstinance.

It is way past time that North Carolina’s children were the priority and not expendable pawns in the partisan maneuvering of Republicans and Democrats.

Judge Lee, the plaintiffs and defendants in his court, have come up with a comprehensive plan to fulfill the state’s Constitutional promise of access to quality education for every child. He’s ordering the state to implement that plan.
“Does anyone today, know of any, at any time regardless of what political party may have been in charge or who may have been governor or who may have been responsible in either the executive or legislative branches to come up with a plan,” he rhetorically asked Wednesday.

The obvious answer is no. From 1994 to 2010 when Democrats controlled the General Assembly, they didn’t come up with a plan. The Republicans who’ve ruled the legislature since 2011 haven’t either. Nor did the Democrats or Republicans who’ve been our governors and Superintendents of Public Instruction.

Even as recently as Monday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt DID NOT EVEN MENTION the pending legal matter in her clearly politically motivated plea for “budgetary certainty” and action on the long-delayed state budget.

There’s no need for any finger-pointing here to identify those responsible for inaction – a glance in a mirror will do.

In contrast to Lee's measured and deliberate tone announcing his order, legislative leaders offered over-heated reactions, labeling Lee's courtroom a "circus" and calling him a "rogue judge."

What should happen now?

That’s easy. Support and implement Judge Lee’s order. The judge has delayed implementation of his order for 30 days – giving Gov. Roy Cooper and the legislature time to implement and fund the remedial plan on their own. Should that not happen, Lee’s order directs the governor, his budget director, the State Controller and the State Treasurer, to act.

Judge Lee makes a strong case that justifies his strong action. “Article One Section 15 of our Constitution represents an ongoing constitutional appropriation of funds sufficient to create and maintain a school system that provides each of our state’s students with the constitutional minimum of a sound basic education and that it may therefore be deemed appropriations made by law,” Lee said. “The Constitution is the direct mandate of the people themselves,” he said in answer to legislative leaders claims that only the General Assembly can determine how state money is spent.

“This case is about children who are from high poverty, low performing districts and areas of our state that aren't given a fair opportunity to get a sound basic education,” Judge Lee said from the bench on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, from the numbers I have seen, the sheer number of those students has increased dramatically and continues to do so. So, in that sense, it's a runaway train.”

Legislative leaders Sen. Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore make baseless claims of political motivations on the part of the judge and parties to the Leandro lawsuit. They have nothing to gain in elections or campaigns – but our legislative leaders are always looking for an easy partisan edge.

Republicans Berger and Moore, like the Democratic Party legislative leaders before them, have failed to act on Leandro. Berger and Moore would rather look for opportunities to foster suspicion, bickering and confrontation over our public schools.

Rather than look for ways to build a top-quality public education system for all of North Carolina’s children they’re engaged in a cynical strategy to enrage and divide.

One way or another, Judge Lee’s order will bring a stop to that behavior.

Legislators have a simple choice:

  • Do the right thing and stand up for the future of North Carolina, with its school children and support Judge Lee’s order.
  • Do the wrong thing, fight the order (and eventually probably lose in court) while the state’s children are still denied the quality education promised in the Constitution our legislators pledge to uphold.

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