RALEIGH — Business Court Judge James Ammons issued a 12-page order on April 14 that included a $677.8 million dollar figure in the long-running Leandro education funding case.
Ammons was tasked with “recalculating the amount of funds to be transferred in light of the state’s 2022 budget.”
The breakdown of the $677.8 million to cover years two and three of the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan includes recalculated amounts of $509,701,707 for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, $133.9 million for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and $34.2 million for the University of North Carolina System.
Ammons’ final total is a match to the amount cited by the Office of State Budget and Management last December and is a similar number to that submitted by the N.C. Department of Justice lawyers. Lawmakers had recently put forth a figure of around $376 million.
Attorneys for legislative leaders had submitted over $48 million in credits for spending in five areas to bring down the overall total, however, Ammons disagreed.
“With respect to Legislative‐Intervenors’ legal argument concerning recurring funding in Year 2, this Court will not disturb Judge Robinson’s “diligent and precise” calculations for Year 2,” Ammons wrote. “The arguments of the Legislative‐Intervenors would require the Court to make a conclusion of law about an issue not presently before the Court on this limited remand, as set forth above.”
Last November, the former 4-3 Democrat-controlled Supreme Court, in essence, reaffirmed the 2021 $1.75 billion transfer order issued by former Leandro Judge David Lee. The then-Democratic-controlled court had ordered three state offices to transfer the funds from the state’s treasury despite the state constitution giving power of appropriations solely to the legislature. The Supreme Court’s ruling landed just four days before the 2022 election, and the ruling was characterized as being about “power” by dissenting justices.
The state controller, one of the three entities ordered to make the transfer, objected to Lee’s ruling, obtaining a writ blocking the transfer and later protesting in oral arguments before the Supreme Court that the office did not have the necessary legal authority to make the transfer.
Lee, who passed away in October 2022 after a battle with cancer, was replaced by business court Judge Michael Robinson in the spring of 2022. Robinson examined the spending and returned a dollar amount of $785 million.
In January 2023, the Supreme Court installed two new justices, flipping control to a 5-2 Republican majority. The new court blocked the funding transfer order in March after the state controller renewed their objections. The court also directed Ammons to only come up with a dollar figure, signaling the Supreme Court will likely examine whether or not the three entities originally ordered to transfer the funds have the power to do so.