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Supreme Court dismisses immediate deadlines in school finance case

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By Matthew Clark
mclark@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 5, 2015

The S.C. Supreme Court has issued an order rescinding February deadlines it set for the S.C. General Assembly to find a solution to rural school funding.

In its order, the court, by a 3-2 vote, gave the Legislature until one week after the conclusion of the 2016 session to present its solution to “implement a constitutionally compliant education system.” In November 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against the state and suggested it had “violated their constitutional duty to endure the students of South Carolina receive a minimally adequate education.”

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, filed a motion with the court in October asking for the Feb. 1 deadline to be vacated and the super panel ordered to review the proposal be disallowed. The court agreed in its latest order on both counts.

“After avoidable legal proceedings that wasted valuable time and effort, it is apparent that the Supreme Court has finally agreed that their arbitrary deadlines and improper super panel stand in the way of real education reform,” Lucas said, in a statement.

In the case Abbeville School District et al. v the State of South Carolina et al., 39 rural school districts contended the school funding formula for state funds was inequitable and favored larger districts. In November 2014 (.pdf), after nearly 20 years, the court issued its 3-2 opinion in favor of the rural districts.

As a result, Lucas established the House Education Task Force while Leatherman started the Senate Special Subcommittee, both with the intention of “developing remedies addressing the Court’s findings.” Lucas said the House committee has continued to work since it was implemented in January.

“I am confident that their suggestions will exceed the court-ordered ‘minimally adequate’ guideline,” Lucas said.

In June, the court issued a second order establishing the date of Feb. 1 as the deadline for the General Assembly to present its plan to the court. Lucas and Leatherman said that deadline would take away from any progress made by both House and Senate committees.

Now, under this latest order, the Legislature has until a week after the conclusion of the 2016 session to provide its findings to the court. The court will then “conduct a review” of those plans and “will give due consideration to the General Assembly’s prerogative to choose the methodology by which the constitutional violation shall be remedied.” The court order also said the court will issue an order after it has reviewed the Legislature’s proposals.

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