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The legislature’s new deadline

·3 min read

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Happy Friday, folks. We made it.

North Carolina lawmakers are running out of time. They have a state budget to pass (as previously discussed in this newsletter, it’s already 2 1/2 months late) and political maps to draw in the coming weeks. And last week, a state judge gave the legislature another deadline. This one is education-related.

As part of an ongoing case known as Leandro, a judge has ordered lawmakers to fully fund a plan to provide every child a “sound, basic education.” That plan includes teacher pay raises, expansion of the state’s Pre-K program and more money for low-wealth school districts, my colleague T. Keung Hui has reported, and requires the state legislature to allocate at least $5.6 billion in new education funding by 2028.

That translates to $690.7 million in new education funding this year and $1.06 billion next year. The state House and Senate’s proposed budgets would allocate nowhere near that amount.

The Senate’s plan would cover just 28% of that amount this year, and 20% next year.

The House’s plan would cover slightly more: 54% the first year and 36% the second year.

Worth noting, though, that the Senate has argued that federal relief dollars spent on schools should count as funding for Leandro.

In a hearing earlier this month, State Superior Court Judge David Lee said those proposed amounts fell “woefully short,” and said if the Leandro plan isn’t fully funded by Oct. 18 — one month from now — or he would take direct action.

“I don’t want to hold anybody in contempt,” Lee said during the hearing. “I far prefer to go another route. But it wouldn’t be a stretch, even at this point, for the court to find beyond a reasonable doubt a continuing and willful and conscious refusal and neglect to follow the Constitution of this state.”

State legislative leaders have said Lee’s order is a violation of the constitution.

“The North Carolina State constitution gives the legislature, not the courts, the authority to appropriate funds,” Demi Dowdy, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Tim Moore, said in a statement Wednesday. “This is an arbitrary deadline that does not have the force of law.”

WHAT WE’RE READING

MORE STORIES FROM THE TEAM

  • Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s approach to the pandemic has shifted in recent months. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan reports how.

  • We still don’t have a budget. Why? Dawn has some answers.

  • “Hang in there, and love each other, and fight the good fight”: One of the fiercest advocates for Medicaid expansion announced her retirement Thursday, Brian Murphy reports.

  • Hundreds of miles away from his district, Congressman Madison Cawthorn led a protest to end Johnston County Schools’ mask mandate, T. Keung Hui reports.

  • North Carolina Republicans aren’t rushing to crusade against Biden’s vaccine mandate, I reported.

  • A trans inmate is requesting to be moved out of a men’s prison, Danielle Battaglia reports.

Don’t forget: Listen and subscribe to our podcast wherever you usually like to listen. (Pandora, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone.)

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

— Lucille Sherman, state government reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at lsherman@newsobserver.com.

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