State says $677 million from Leandro order remains unfunded

N.C. Senior Deputy Attorney General Amar Majmundar argues for the State Board of Education in a Leandro hearing. (Image from pool coverage)

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  • A new calculation from N.C. state officials says more than $677 million of a court-ordered Leandro education plan remains unfunded.
  • The N.C. Supreme Court has ordered a trial judge to determine how much the state must spend for Leandro, then force state officials to transfer the money without the General Assembly's input.

More than $677 million of a court-ordered state education plan remains unfunded, according to new documents from state lawyers. The documents filed Monday respond to the N.C. Supreme Court’s latest ruling in the long-running Leandro case.

The high court’s November decision called for Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson to recalculate his April Leandro order. Robinson had determined last spring that the state would need to spend an additional $785 million to cover two years of items included in a court-mandated Leandro plan.

Once Robinson finalizes his recalculation, the state Supreme Court’s 4-3 ruling calls for him to order state officials to transfer the money out of the state treasury. The court’s four Democratic justices ordered the transfer over the objection of three Republican colleagues.

Now state Senior Deputy Attorney General Amar Majmundar, representing Democrat-led executive branch agencies, has filed a new analysis of unfunded Leandro items. It features calculations from Anca Elena Grozav, chief deputy director of state budget at Gov. Roy Cooper’s N.C. Office of State Budget and Management.

Grozav and colleagues compared the two most recent approved state budgets with items spelled out in the second and third year of the Leandro plan, also known as the “comprehensive remedial plan.”

“The analysis reveals that 63% of the Year Two Action Items of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan, and 60% of the Year Three Items of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan have been funded,” Grozav said in an affidavit. “This means that approximately $257,679,390 of Year Two Action Items remain unfunded, while $420,121,777 of Year Three Action Items remain unfunded.”

The funds, $677,801,167 for the two years of action items, would head to the state Department of Public Instruction, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the University of North Carolina System.

It’s unclear what will happen next with this information.

Parties in the Leandro suit filed a proposed timeline for the case on Dec. 12. It called for state officials to present updated Leandro funding estimates Monday, with other parties in the case facing a Jan. 20 deadline to respond.

But Robinson has filed no formal response to the timeline.

Meanwhile, State Controller Nels Roseland objects to the timeline. Roseland is one of three state officials who would take part in the court-ordered forced money transfer. Such a transfer would deviate from the normal budget process. The standard process requires authorization from the General Assembly for any movement of money out of the treasury.

Roseland, controller since July 1, has been following his predecessor Linda Combs’ legal strategy in the Leandro case. The controller’s office has fought the forced money transfer. The controller has argued that such an action would violate state law and force the controller to violate his oath of office. The N.C. Court of Appeals agreed. Appellate judges blocked a forced money transfer ordered by Robinson’s predecessor in November 2021.

The state Supreme Court’s November decision set that Appeals Court ruling aside.

The Dec. 12 filing in Robinson’s court indicated “The Controller’s stated objection provided to Plaintiffs by email is that additional procedures are needed to assure an accurate and responsible handling of any money which the Controller authorizes.”

“Due to the need for those additional procedures, the Controller believes it is premature to determine a scheduling order for the proceedings on remand,” the document continued. “Counsel for the Controller indicated he would make a subsequent filing to address these issues and requested his position be reported to the Court.”

The controller’s lawyer has not filed any documents in the past week.

Republican leaders of the state General Assembly also have objected to the forced money transfer, along with the order for any additional court-mandated Leandro funding. Lawmakers’ lawyers have signaled they might also respond to the proposed timeline for Leandro proceedings.

However Robinson responds to Leandro in the weeks ahead, it’s likely that the case could return to the state’s highest court. The state Supreme Court already has issued major Leandro rulings in 1997, 2004, and in November this year.

If the case returns to the high court in 2023, the court’s partisan composition will have changed. Democratic Justice Robin Hudson, who wrote the latest Leandro decision, is retiring. Fellow Democrat Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV, who joined Hudson’s opinion, lost his re-election bid.

Instead of a 4-3 Democratic majority, the new court will have a 5-2 split favoring Republicans. All three of the court’s current Republicans dissented from the November Leandro ruling.