by Sam Hieb
By now you’ve probably heard or seen the headline—North Carolina school districts are going back to court in an attempt to recover $750 million from a “fund” established more than 20 years ago. The idea was to take money from civil fines and forfeitures and turn it over to schools to acquire updated technology:
In 1997, state lawmakers created a fund to collect money from civil fines and forfeitures that would be turned over to schools for acquiring technology. But the state excluded penalties levied for not paying state taxes, fines paid by overweight trucks and parking tickets issued at state universities.
In 1998, the N.C. School Boards Association and several school boards, including Wake and Johnston counties, filed a lawsuit to get the fine money that had been excluded.
In 2005, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school districts and sent the case back to a lower court to determine how much money from 1996 to 2005 was owed.
Manning issued his order in August 2008 and said that the $747.9 million had to be used for technology. Legislators turned over $18.1 million in 2009.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that many people will read this headline and believe that once again this is a case of evil Republicans refusing to properly fund education here in North Carolina. But House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger pushed back against that idea:
“The judgment was reached against Democrat lawmakers over a decade ago as they were slashing education spending by over $700 million in two years, furloughing teachers and cutting their pay, but since that time Republican leaders in the state General Assembly made schools their top priority by doubling K-12’s share of new state spending and increasing total public education appropriations by nearly $3 billion a year,” Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, said in a written statement.
….“We have not seen the filing yet and will need time to review it,” Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Berger, said in a written statement. “But we agree that Democrats broke their promises to support public education when they were last in charge of the legislature — including by freezing teacher pay, furloughing teachers and looting public school funds to cover budget deficits created by their failed tax and spend policies — and that’s why voters rejected them in 2010.”
What a mess. Leave the politics out of this–the worst part is —-according to the N&O –“one repayment option that has been suggested is to set up speed enforcement cameras around schools and work zones and to turn over the money from fines for speeding.” Great–so the answer is to further crack down on ordinary citizens is order to repay a fund that –in my opinion–should have never been established in the first place.