Democrats declare victory with NC High Court Leandro decision

By Cash Michaels

November 13, 2022 11:35PM
Cash Michaels
Cash Michaels

NC Democrats may not be thrilled with all of the November midterm election results, but the state Supreme Court’s pre-election 4-3 ruling in the 25-year-long Leandro case upholding a lower court’s order to the Republican-led NC General Assembly to begin funding public education according to the court-approved Comprehensive Remedial Plan, overwhelmed state Democrats.

“It’s our constitutional duty to ensure every child has access to a sound basic education,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a statement. “As the NC Supreme Court has affirmed…. we must do more for our students all across North Carolina."

The chair of the NC Democratic Party, Dr. Bobbie Richardson, was also ecstatic.

“This ruling is a massive victory for public education in North Carolina, for our students, and for the future of our state. Access to a quality public education should be a right for every child. Today, we are grateful that the court has agreed. Now, after years of Republican failure to adequately fund public schools, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling mandating that our General Assembly fully fund the Leandro Education Plan — providing our public schools with over $5.6 billion in education spending through 2028.

What are Democrats crowing about?

Finally, after 2 years of litigation, North Carolina’s public schools, from the richest counties to the poorest, will be funded by the state at the same levels, affording each student no matter where he or she lives, the same resources for learning, Democrats say.

It all harkens back to 25 years ago when five of the state’s poorest counties - Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance, and Cumberland - along with several low-wealth families, sued the state, alleging that their children were not getting the same level of educational instruction or resources as richer counties.

In 1997, the NC Supreme Court agreed, ruling that according to the state Constitution, every child is guaranteed “a sound, basic education,” and the legislature to make it happen.

In the subsequent years, Democrats led the legislature, but failed o follow the High Court’s order. In 2011, Republicans took leadership in the NC General Assembly, but still failed to provide adequate public-school funding.

Before he retired, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning held several hearings, and determined that the state was indeed delinquent in its responsibility to publicly schools.

In 2016, having taken over the Leandro case from the retired Judge Manning, State Superior Court Judge David Lee later issued a January 2020 court order charging that North Carolina is, in fact, further behind in providing educational equity than before. Judge Lee ordered that the state move “expeditiously” and “without delay” to transfer funding to meet the Leandro obligation.

Gov. Cooper would later propose in his 2021 budget that that funding would occur. A Democratic House Bill 946 would also propose a plan, but both were ignored by the republican-led NC General Assembly. That June, Judge Lee approved a seven-year plan that the State Board of Education, Cooper, and the Leandro all signed off on - $5.6 billion in new education funding through 2028.

Saying that Judge Lee has no say in education funding, state Republican lawmakers again ignored his order. A resolute Judge Lee gave GOP legislative leaders a deadline in September 2021.

Ultimately, the state Supreme Court stepped in to decide whether Judge Lee (who has since deceased), had the proper authority to order the state to increase public school funding.

According to, the state Supreme Court’s recent order “…sends the case back to a trial court to determine how much money should be transferred. The Comprehensive Remedial Plan (Leandro Plan) provides specific guidance on what is needed to make sure schools are adequately resourced. It calls for more than $5.6 billion to be spent over eight years, but the order applies only to years two and three, which called for $1.75 billion.

“Although this ruling addresses only years two and three of the eight-year Comprehensive Remedial Plan, it provides clear direction that years four through eight should also be fully funded.”

And how are Republicans reacting to the High Court ruling? At press time prior to Election Day, the GOP was quiet, waiting to see how the midterm election results would pan out.

But for now, the legislature is under judicial order to provide more and equal funding to all of the state’s public schools.

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