Judge says North Carolina owes local districts $730 million that was improperly withheld

March 7, 2019
Decision reaffirms 2008 ruling that school district should have received the proceeds of civil fines collected over 9 years.

A judge in North Carolina has reaffirmed a 2008 ruling that the state must give local school districts $730 million that the state improperly withheld.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that Wake County Superior Court Judge Vincent Rozier signed an order Wednesday that extends a 2008 court decision ordering state leaders to turn over $747.9 million in civil fines that should have been given to public schools over a nine-year period.

Because only $18 million had been provided as of last year, the North Carolina School Boards Association and 20 school districts went back to court to get the remaining money.

“We are pleased that the court extended the judgment against the state,” says Billy Griffin, president of the school boards association. “These funds are vitally important to public schools across the state because there is certainly no shortage of needs for technology.”

Under the terms of the 2008 court order, the money has to be used for school technology. School leaders say the need for new technology is great based on how many districts don’t have enough money to keep updating their student mobile devices.

The new order still doesn’t include a way to legally enforce the decision. School leaders have tried for years to reach a deal with state leaders to provide the money.

But school leaders expressed optimism that the money will be provided. They pointed to the bill filed by House Speaker Tim Moore that calls for a $1.9 billion statewide school construction bond referendum. The bond would include money for school technology to help satisfy the court decision. 

The state Constitution requires money from fines levied by the state go to public schools. But it was unclear whether it applied only to criminal fines until 1996, when the state Supreme Court issued a ruling extending it to civil fines as well.

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 for overweight trucks and parking tickets issued at state universities.

In 1998, the school boards association and several districts sued to get the fine money that had been excluded.

In 2005, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the districts and sent the case back to a lower court to determine how much money from 1996 to 2005 was owed. 

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning issued his order in August 2008. The new lawsuit was filed because Manning’s order was set to expire.

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