Judge: State still owes $729M to NC school districts

Posted March 6, 2019 1:34 p.m. EST

— A Wake County judge on Wednesday reinstated a decade-old judgment against the state for hundreds of millions of dollars in civil fines that weren't paid to school districts over several years.

Under the state constitution, fines collected by state agencies are supposed to be turned over to school districts, but the state diverted that money to other uses between 1996 and 2005. School districts sued and won a $747.8 million judgment against the state in 2008.

Since then, the state has paid only $18.1 million, or 2.4 percent, of the judgment.

The North Carolina School Boards Association and several school districts filed suit again last summer, as the judgment was about to lapse after 10 years.

Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier dismissed arguments from the state that no one could enforce the judgment, and he reinstated it, saying the state still owes school districts $729.7 million.

Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations, for the School Boards Association, said she is optimistic lawmakers will appropriate the money to satisfy the judgment.

“[Our organization] continues to stress to the General Assembly the need to develop a payment structure to return the funds due to the public school students of this state," Winner said in a statement.

House lawmakers are considering putting a $1.9 billion school construction bond on the ballot next year, and a provision of that legislation calls for crediting any money from that voter-approved bond spent on classroom technology be credited against the judgment.

Lawmakers decreed years ago that money from the fines be used for school technology.

Almost a third of North Carolina school districts don't have money budgeted to routinely replace older classroom technology, according to the School Boards Association.

"How can anyone expect our children to keep up with today’s staggering pace of change when the tools at their fingertips are slow and so far behind?" said Minnie Forte-Brown, a Durham County Board of Education member and past president of the School Boards Association.

"These funds are vitally important to public schools across the state because there is certainly no shortage of needs for technology," said Billy Griffin, president of the School Boards Association and a school board member in Jones County.