The Leandro case isn't about money, say the presiding judge and the former chief justice who wrote the first Supreme Court ruling in the case.
Judge Howard Manning Jr. and former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell held a conversation about the landmark case this morning in Research Triangle Park before a crowd of teachers and principals at the N.C. New Schools Project's annual summer meeting.
Manning will hold his latest hearing on the Leandro case tomorrow in Wake County Superior Court, and this time the focus will be whether cuts in the newly adopted budget violate the state's constitutional mandate to provide a sound basic education for all children. The long-running case revolves around the question of whether poor counties have the resources to provide a quality education.
The case has resulted in two Supreme Court decisions and many hearings since it was filed by five low-wealth school districts in 1994.
Mitchell, who was chief justice, said he chose Manning because he knew the case would require someone with "some guts and some gumption."
"I knew when we got into this that we were taking the top off of a beehive," Mitchell said.
Manning was careful not to wade into the specific issues that will be before his court tomorrow. But he made clear that the elements of the case are that it is the state's responsibility to provide children with quality education, and that the requirement goes well beyond paying for buildings and books. "It all starts with the classroom teacher and the leadership team in the principal's office," he said.
Too often school leaders only want to talk about money, Manning said.
"This is not a money case," he said. "This is a quality case."
Lawmakers have questioned Manning getting involved in the state spending decisions, saying that is the legislature's role.
But Manning and Mitchell said that it is the judge's role to enforce the constitution and identify violations. Then it is up to the executive and legislative branches to remedy the situation.
"It's up to them to fix it," Manning said.