Earlier this week my colleague Terry Stoops posted an insightful analysis of where things stand in the never-ending Leandro case.
Interest in the case has heated up since June when Judge David Lee, who presides over the case, ordered the state to implement a comprehensive remediation plan developed by education consultants and approved by the judge. In the order, Lee essentially said how the state must spend education dollars and who will get what resources.
Terry’s post raises two points worth amplifying. First, if Judge Lee expects the legislature to be part of the solution – lawmakers establish school budgets and set education policy — it is more than curious why Lee hasn’t reached out to lawmakers to be part of the process of addressing concerns raised by the Leandro Commission?
Second, our State Constitution establishes three distinct branches of government. The General Assembly is given the power of the purse on questions of spending and revenue must have their approval. The cur constitution also articulates a three-step process with respect to the state budget. The governor proposes a budget; the legislature considers it; then the governor implements. Again, approval of the legislature is needed on questions of spending.
It’s hard to exaggerate the significance of the path Judge Lee has set the state on. What happens on October 18th , the day Judge Lee set for the state to begin implementation of the comprehensive remediation plan could disenfranchise millions of North Carolinian voters, who exercised their civic responsibility and voted for officials who they believe represent their views on education, the economy, taxes and a host of other issues. The General Assembly has long held the power of the purse. Implementing Judge Lee’s order would nullify those voices.
Some policy questions are controversial and complicated. However, we already have tools to help us decide those questions. They are called elections. Asking the courts to settle complicated education policy questions is asking them to take on tasks they are not well-equipped to address. Doubt me? Review the long-running state financing or federal desegregation cases. Soon Leandro will be entering its third decade. Ask anyone if they think those cases have turned out well.
Tasking the courts with settling thorny policy questions is a path that should be avoided; for the good of the people – and the court.