Halifax County Schools North Carolina

A teacher works with students at the Inborden Elementary STEAM Academy, which is part of Halifax County School District in North Carolina. Halifax County is one of the school districts involved in the long-running Leandro education funding case. 

(The Center Square) — Dozens of "recognized leaders in the North Carolina business community" are weighing in on the decades-long Leandro school funding saga ahead of a state Supreme Court hearing next month.

Justices will hear oral arguments Aug. 31. in an ongoing dispute over $785 million in court-ordered education spending. The Supreme Court will also consider whether Superior Court Judge David Lee had the authority to circumvent the General Assembly with a November 2021 order requiring state officials to transfer the funding from the treasury to cover two years of a Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan.

Eight days after Lee's order to transfer $1.75 billion, lawmakers enacted a state budget that included some of the spending. Judge Michael Robinson, who replaced Lee in the case, reconciled the state budget spending on education with the spending order to reduce the figure to $785 million, while also eliminating the demand to move the money without legislative approval.

Plaintiffs in the case want the Supreme Court to reinstate the forced transfer, while lawmakers argue public education policy and spending rests with the legislative and executive branches.

On Wednesday, more than 50 self-described "recognized leaders in the North Carolina business community" filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs that focuses on the link between education and workforce readiness and the state's economic prosperity.

The brief was backed by current and former public officials, current and former media executives, and others with ties to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the UNC System Board of Governors, Gov. Roy Cooper, Carolina Power and Light, SAS Institute, and Bank of America.

"The amici submitting this brief are recognized leaders in the North Carolina business community, all of whom have dedicated their professional efforts to building and serving enterprises that contribute to

our state's economic progress and stability," according to the document.

"In particular, amici are concerned that failure to improve public schools will negatively affect our students' ability to thrive in the workplace—and by extension our collective economic condition. Amici also rely on quality education so that they can draw from a skilled and talented local work force to support their business efforts. Improving education in the state is vital for amici and businesses who seek to maintain and grow their business interests in North Carolina."

The brief argues the Leandro litigation has centered on societal benefits of improved public education, with less focus on economic benefits "that run throughout our citizens' lives."

"Amici seek to bring their expertise to bear on this topic through a brief focused on the importance of quality education to the health and growth of our state economy," it read.

The "recognized leaders" contend Lee's November spending order "was the practical and constitutionally appropriate means for the state to guard and maintain the fundamental right to a sound basic education."

The brief comes about three weeks after an attorney for North Carolina lawmakers submitted an opening brief in the case that highlighted the Supreme Court's history of honoring the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches in the Leandro case.

That judicial restraint shifted over the last two decades "into a platform for seemingly permanent judicial supervision over all aspects of public education policy and funding in the State of North Carolina," attorney Matthew Tilley wrote.

Final briefs in the case are due by Aug. 12.

There's no set deadline for the Democrat-leaning court to rule following the Aug. 31 oral arguments.