Raleigh, N.C. — Dozens of prominent business and civic leaders from across North Carolina are asking the state Supreme Court to ensure the full $1.75 billion cost of the so-called Leandro Plan is funded through this fiscal year.
The leaders — including executives and directors at major corporations, presidential appointees and former education administrators — submitted a 52-page friend-of-the-court filing with the North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing the court should order the remaining $785 million yet to be appropriated to be transferred directly from state coffers to three state agencies.
General Assembly leaders and the former state Controller Linda Combs have challenged that method of transfer, saying it bypasses the General Assembly’s budget authority.
The business and civic leaders “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,” they wrote in one filing Wednesday.
The Leandro Plan is an agreement between school boards and the state intended to fix what the high court said was broken with the state’s education system. The plan, which is the result of a years-long legal battle over the issue, is known in court as the “comprehensive remedial plan.” It calls for at least $5.6 billion in new, annual education spending by 2028 to shore up school resources, as well as numerous policy changes concerning school improvement and accountability.
The brief filed Wednesday was on behalf of 55 influential business and civic leaders from across the state. Among them: Erskine Bowles, the University of North Carolina president emeritus who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton; Jim Fain the former banking executive who served as the state’s secretary of commerce under Gov. Mike Easley; Anthony Foxx, the former Charlotte mayor who was U.S. transportation secretary under President Barack Obama; SAS Institute founder Jim Goodnight and his wife Ann Goodnight; James H. Maynard, founder of Golden Corral Corp.; former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl; former Raleigh Mayor Smedes York; former Wake County Superintendent Bill McNeal; and former Raleigh Mayor Smedes York.
Jim Goodmon, the chairman and chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting Co., was also among the executives. Capitol Broadcasting Co. is the parent of WRAL-TV.
The filing is in support of the low-wealth school boards and families who sued the state to obtain an adequate education in 1994. The state itself has now agreed to the Leandro Plan with the plaintiffs, but General Assembly leaders, who have intervened in the case, have refused to fund a court-ordered plan. That dispute is now before the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hold a hearing the week before Labor Day.
The $785 million in funds left to be appropriated toward the plan would increase funding for special education students and other disadvantaged students, plus dozens of other things.
“Our students need these improvements so that they can thrive and compete in a modern society and economy that demands more specialized skills,” the leaders say in their filings. “As a state, we need our students to realize these benefits so that we can collectively achieve the economic success that comes from adequate education.”
The brief is the latest among several this month and the latest of several requests to file amicus briefs made by other education advocacy groups supporting the Leandro Plan.
Two other filings have also sought two Supreme Court justices’ recusal from the case. First, state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and state House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland—defendants in the case—asked Justice Anita Earls to recuse herself from the case because Earls participated in filings on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case in 2005 and 2013. Two days later, the plaintiffs’ motioned for Justice Phil Berger Jr. —the son of the Senate president—to recuse himself.