Here’s a question we’ve been asking around here for more than a decade: What happens when the state legislature violates the state constitution?
We’re asking specifically about Article IX, which guarantees a free public education to every child living in the state, and this is not a rhetorical question: The NC Supreme Court decided back in 1997 that in five of our poorest counties, the state was not keeping up its end of the deal to provide a “sound basic education.”
Still, 24 years later Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance and Cumberland counties have the lowest per-pupil spending in the state.
In the decades of inaction, generations of children have passed through these substandard schools.
The Leandro v NC decision was far back enough to implicate both Democrats and Republicans in this complete abdication of legislative responsibility. That nothing was done until 2017 is our collective shame. That’s the year Gov. Roy Cooper created a commission that eventually, in 2018, ordered a report and plan that landed in 2019. A signed consent order in 2020 committed the legislature to the details of the plan, which would cost $1.7 billion in new education spending over two years.
Funding for the Leandro Plan, however, has not been approved by the legislature, which has yet to sign off on a budget these many, many weeks after the long session has usually ended.
A Monday deadline set by Superior Court Judge David Lee has been extended three weeks, until Nov. 8, at which time the plantiffs and the judge must decide on ways to compel the legislature to live up to their obligation.
But the Republican-led legislature has said that the courts have no jurisdiction over the House nor Senate. There’s no guarantee that, even if a budget would be passed before the deadline, that Leandro funding would be a part of it.
So the question we posit here is a real one, involving a looming impact between the proverbial irresistible force and immovable object. No one really knows what will happen next, because our state government has never achieved this level of dysfunction before.