Theatrics won’t pay for a sound education

The phrase "cheap con job" doesn’t see a lot of use in connection with initiatives of the state attorney general’s office, but there’s a first time for everything.

Ten months ago, Attorney General Roy Cooper, at the urging of Gov. Mike Easley, appealed Superior Court Judge NC William Pittman ruling that the state has an inescapable responsibility to ensure that public-school students in such low-wealth counties as Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson and Vance have equal access to a sound, basic education.

They weren’t opposed to Pitman ruling. Oh, no. They were, they said, in substantial agreement with it. Their concern was for one narrowly defined issue.

They weren’t going to stall around, either. They just wanted the ruling to have this quick and conclusive review, so they were going to bypass the Court of Appeals and go straight to the court of last resort.

They wouldn’t even ask for a stay of Pitman order while awaiting that review. The matter would be settled before the end of the year, "so we can move forward together to help our children."

The school-funding issues, declared Easley, "has been in and out of court for a decade. It’s time to get a definitive ruling from the highest court in the state. We need to fast-track it, find out exactly what the court rules and then get about making progress in education."

And never mind that the high court had already ruled that the ultimate responsibility lay with the state.

Six weeks into the new year, where do we find the matter? In the Court of Appeal, NC, where the attorney general’s office has filed a 65-page brief attacking Manning’s order on all fronts.

The object is not to clarify a narrowly defined issue in the Supreme Court so that all can get on with helping the children. The object is to cut the heart out of Manning’s order or, if that fails, to have it bleed to death from lesser wounds.

What has all this angst and energy bought us? Nothing. The issue is no more complicated today than it was when the stall began last spring. The only thing that has changed is the state’s fiscal plight, which has worsened.

The truth, as we said in July, is simple: The governor doesn’t want to pay. It’s so much more pleasant to jack up appropriations for his own "More at Four" initiative and leave it to local governments to pay the bills at the expense of property owners – including those in the same low-wealth districts whose young scholars Manning’s order was crafted to protect.

"Cheap con job" just about covers it.

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