Updated: May 23
Recently, in the latest continuation of a case that goes back to 1994, an extension has been granted to Judge Michael Robinson to come to a decision on the perceived ‘inadequate’ funding of five ‘low-income’ counties. This turn of events is just the latest in a saga that has been going on for twenty-eight years.
This suit was initially launched after families from Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance, and Cumberland counties sued the state after they felt their schools were being underfunded in favor of directing funding towards more populous, higher income counties. A ruling was reached in 1997 that was in favor of the families, the judge ruled that the schools were in fact underfunded, which went against the State Constitution.
The case was re-examined in 2004 and now at present. This current re-examination of the case differs from the previous one as most of the people who were initially involved have left the case or have since retired, including the presiding judge. The current re-examination is being pressed by Gov. Roy Cooper, NC educational coalitions, and NC Democrats, who are trying to steer $1.75 billion in federal educational funding.
To some, this seems to be mainly partisan in nature- the fact being that Gov. Cooper has a reputation far from impartial and that educational coalitions on the whole tend to be lobbying vessels for state Democratic lawmakers. It also doesn’t help dissuade this notion that a consulting group from San Francisco has been brought in to try and resolve the dispute, and that the lawsuit pits Democratic state officials against the Republican held General Assembly.
What I feel is getting lost in this and what concerns me most as it should you, is the precedent that could be set if the ruling was in favor of Gov. Cooper, the educational coalitions, and NC Democrats. If Judge Robinson ultimately rules in their favor, the precedent could be set for any funding dispute to be settled in court, instead of by the school boards and General Assembly.
It is the sole discretion of the General Assembly to allocate and direct money for the state of North Carolina. This ruling could direct some of that power into the governor’s or state officials' hands, who could use the courts to redirect money or ultimately refute the amount of money that is to be directed.
Courts are a measure of last resort and are blunt in their administration. The judicial system also seems to be more partisan, mainly in favor of the Democratic viewpoint and any issue on funding will likely be rubber stamped in the Democrats favor.
This would subvert the exclusive right of the General Assembly to the power of the purse and to parents who will ultimately foot the bill in most situations.
You might see teachers protesting about how they are not being paid enough or how they don’t have enough supplies, which isn’t to say that these claims aren’t warranted, but a sympathetic Democratic Governor or State Official might press the matter in court and compel the State of North Carolina through court order to put up more money in a way that is completely negligible of the state’s financial standing.
This would without a doubt open the door for a ballooning educational budget, and take away the democratic process that you get with school boards and the General Assembly. The simple truth is the Democratic Party is not the party of fiscal responsibility and when they can spend more money that isn’t there they will.
As it stands now, the largest percent of the North Carolina State budget goes towards education, with roughly 12 billion being earmarked for education every year, which should be more than enough to do the job under normal circumstances. Underfunding should be settled by the school boards not the courts.
This may not happen, but it very well could. North Carolina is presently on good financial footing, so why potentially let politically motivated Democrats ruin that in the name of education, just like they have ruined our nation's finances overall?