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A decade after key court ruling, N.C. public school districts say they’re owed millions by the state

Nearly a decade after a Superior Court judge found that state agencies owed public school districts almost $750 million, local and state school leaders say they will file a new legal complaint against North Carolina Wednesday.

In that new complaint, which will be filed in Wake County Superior Court, the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) and “many school districts” say they will argue that the state legislature and state agencies have yet to meet their obligations under that ruling.

“The plaintiffs are seeking a win/win and remain willing and eager to work with the legislature and defendants to reach a mutually beneficial resolution,” the NCSBA said in a statement.

School districts say state agencies have held onto millions in civil penalty funds that they were constitutionally obligated to spend on public school technology.

In 2008, Superior Court Judge Howard—a now retired judge who also played a leading role in the state’s landmark Leandro ruling over public school funding—agreed with local school district leaders, noting funds that should have been doled out to districts by state agencies like the Department of Revenue, the Department of Transportation and the UNC campuses.

From the NCSBA’s statement:

The NC Supreme Court ruled that the State Constitution entitles the public schools to civil penalties collected by various state agencies. The NC legislature declared in 1997 that those funds should be used exclusively for technology.

The courts determined that civil penalties collected by state agencies between 1996 and 2005 were diverted to other purposes in violation of the Constitution. A 2008 Judgment against the defendants totaled nearly $750M. The court noted at the time that “the ultimate responsibility for the satisfaction of this judgment will depend on the manner in which the General Assembly discharges its constitutional duties.”

Fast forward to 2018 – The legislature and defendants have still not fulfilled their constitutional obligation to provide funding to make up for the vast majority of funds that were diverted.

NCSBA leaders will reveal more details about the complaint at a press conference Wednesday morning, scheduled for 10 a.m. at George Watts Elementary in Durham.

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