North Carolina judge has an extra week to work on school funding order

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The North Carolina Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to give a judge an extra week to complete the final leg of a long legal battle over public education spending.

Court judges granted Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson a seven-day extension, which he requested on Tuesday while citing differences between the legal parties over specifics and numerous documents to review.

Robinson was tasked last month with reviewing another judge’s November order that ordered $1.75 billion withdrawn from state coffers to complete a two-year recovery plan aimed at addressing inequalities in education.

In particular, the Supreme Court asked Robinson to review Justice David Lee’s order in light of the General Assembly’s passing of a state budget that funds some of the plan’s provisions.

Robinson initially had until Wednesday to report his findings to the justices, who will then hear appeals that would likely decide whether the judiciary has the constitutional power to order taxpayer-funded education spending on its own. Republican legislative leaders say only the General Assembly can appropriate the state’s money.

In his request for an extension, Robinson said he had received a large number of written submissions from legal parties in the litigation such as school districts, parents and state officials, and had held a long in-person meeting last week.

The parties also disagree on the amount of money provided for in the new finance law that covers the recovery plan program and how certain expenses should be interpreted, he wrote.

The delay until April 27 was necessary to “carefully consider the submissions and arguments of counsel” and “issue a proper order containing its findings and conclusions,” Robinson added.

The court granted the extension in an order that contained no additional comments. Shortly after, Robinson scheduled an online hearing on Friday to ask about the spending disagreements.

The state budget office in Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration calculated earlier this month that the two-year budget allocated $958 million, which would coincide with portions of $1.75 billion. dollars that Lee says should be spent through mid-2023. But an analysis by the legislature’s Budget Research Division differed on which budget provisions align with the recovery plan and how spending should be accounted for. While Cooper favored fully funding the turnaround plan, he still signed the legislature’s budget into law,

The litigation is called “Leandro” for a plaintiff in the original 1994 lawsuit. Supreme Court decisions in 1997 and 2004 declared that there was a constitutionally protected right to obtain “the opportunity for a solid basic education and that the state had failed to fulfill this mandate, especially for students from poor areas.

Since then, judges have been appointed to monitor the case and efforts to address the inequalities. The case escalated again in late 2019 when an outside consultant said little progress had been made in complying with the rulings.

Lee eventually backed a turnaround plan that would spend at least $5.6 billion through 2028. But he didn’t order any spending until budget negotiations between the Legislature and Cooper were well under way. fall 2021. A budget agreement was signed a week after his Nov. 10 order.

The recovery plan includes things like funding improvements to help low-income students and people with disabilities. There is also an increase in the salaries of educators and improvements in children’s access to pre-kindergarten.

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