State keeping school systems' money?

teacher

June 9, 2010 9:00:00 PM PDT
North Carolina schools say they are missing hundreds of millions of dollars in money that is supposed to go directly to schools, but instead is being kept by the state.Money collected from state agencies, from speeding tickets on the interstate to fines for paying state taxes late, is supposed to go to public schools according to the state constitution, but for years it has not.

So the North Carolina School Boards Association sued the state of North Carolina for the money.

During the decade long legal battle over the funds, the state still kept the money as schools struggled to avoid deeper budget cuts.

"Some stayed with the DOT, some within the UNC system, all across state government, money was used," said Leanne Winner with the North Carolina School Boards Association.

A superior court judge ruled the state owes about $748 million --$20-million from the Employment Security Commission, $42 million from UNC campuses, $104 million from the Department of Transportation and a whopping $583 million from the Department of Revenue.

However, the state says it doesn't have the money school leaders say they desperately need.

"We've had cuts, then a second round of cuts, third round of cuts," said Steve Miller, an assistant principal in Wake County. "Now any of the cuts that we have are directly impacting classroom instruction that's where it really, really, really hurts kids."

The fines and forfeiture money is once again going toward technology for public schools after nearly eight years.

"We are woefully behind in providing technology for our students," Winner said. "If you look at our children compared to children in classrooms in Japan and other places."

State lawmakers serving from the late 1990's to 2005 were responsible for diverting the funds and letting the state's debt towards schools grow, but the attorney general fought for repayment.

Roy Cooper wasn't in office when it all started, but he did represent the state in the lawsuit loss. He did not want to comment on the matter Thursday, but one lawmaker did.

"As a member of the legislature it's an obligation," North Carolina Representative Rick Glazier said. "We have to obey the law. The state has to obey the law just as we expect every citizen to."

Glazier was still on the Cumberland County School Board when his predecessors started diverting hundreds of millions of dollars and he says it never should have dragged on so long.

"When we've made a mistake we need to early on accept responsibility to fix it," Glazier said.

Glazier says he is working on a plan to fix it and to make up some of those lost millions.

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