Leandro is a decades-long court case in North Carolina. It began in 1994 when five counties sued the state and the State Board of Education. They argued that their students were not receiving a sufficient education.
In response, North Carolina’s Supreme Court found that every child has a state constitutional right to a sound, basic education.
In 2004, the same court held that at-risk students, including those needing pre-K, had been denied the right to a sound basic education. In 2016, Judge David Lee was assigned to the case when Judge Howard Manning stepped down after 19 years.
In 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper created a commission to address the issue. In 2018, the court appointed WestEd to recommend specific actions needed by the state to comply with Leandro. WestEd released its report one year later, detailing the problem and recommending various solutions.
In March 2021, a comprehensive eight-year plan was submitted to the court, building off of the work of the WestEd report as well as recommendations from the Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education.
In June 2021, Judge Lee signed an order that the state must implement that comprehensive plan.
In November 2021, Lee orders the state to transfer about $1.7 billion from general fund to pay for first two years of comprehensive plan.
Also in November, State Controller Linda Combs challenges Lee’s order in the state Court of Appeals
At the end of November, Court of Appeals rules that Lee can’t order the transfer of funds.
December 2021, legislative leaders filed motion to intervene in the case and appeal Judge Lee’s order to the court of appeals. State Attorney General also appeals Lee’s order to the court of appeals.
In March 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear the current arguments in the Leandro case. However, the justices wanted the case to go back to superior court so that the judge could determine whether the passage of the budget in late 2021 should have any impact on Lee’s order.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby also ordered at the same time that Judge David Lee be replaced by Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson.
A few days later, Robinson set out a timetable for parties to deliver their takes on what impact the passage of the budget should have on Lee’s order. Two weeks after a hearing, Robinson issued an order on April 26 finding the state underfunded the Leandro Plan by $785 million, but did not order the money to be transferred from the state treasury to state agencies.
The case came before the North Carolina Supreme Court on Aug. 31, 2022.
The N.C. Supreme Court released their decision on Nov. 4, 2022. In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that the state has to transfer funds for years two and three of the plan. Given that the state passed a budget during this process, the court remanded the case to a trial court to determine the actual dollar amounts for each year.
A new judge, James Ammons, took over the trial court portion of the case after Robinson asked to be taken off because of his work load. Additionally, in the new year, the make up of the Supreme Court flipped to Republican following the November 2022 elections.
In the new year, attorneys representing legislative leaders and the state controller (now Nels Roseland) both asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the court of appeals stay of the money transfer. The Court agreed to the controller’s request while it considers his arguments.
Meanwhile, on March 10, Ammons held his first hearing on the case. He determined that his role was solely to calculate how much money remained to be funded in the comprehensive plan following passage of the 2022 budget. He has a hearing on the matter scheduled for March 17.