South Carolina Lawmakers Request Court to Reconsider Education Ruling

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In South Carolina, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Nikki Haley have requested that the state’s Supreme Court reconsider an order from last fall to fix the state’s struggling education system based on a case first brought to the court by poor, rural school districts 22 years ago.

Last November, the justices ruled that the broken education funding system neglects students in low-income, rural districts. Though the court ordered the lawmakers to fix the problem, they gave no direction how it should be done.

The justices did state that throwing money at the situation was not the only answer, writes Seanna Adcox of The State. A rehearing, say the legislators, is necessary because the court “overstepped its authority” by telling the state to take action and they added that the court did not offer a method by which a change could be made.

Haley also expressed a need for the justices to give the state leaders credit for financial changes in the 2013-2014 school year.

The justices are holding firm by insisting that there is no basis for a rehearing. House Speaker Jay Lucas announced that a committee had been formed to study the issue and that their suggestions are due in January of 2016. Lucas will also appoint the district representatives this week, as the court has mandated that legislators and school officials work together on a solution.

The main theme of the court’s decision seems to be that state funds are still distributed to districts based on a 1977 law and a 1984 law. Those formulas are currently in place, and the Legislature, adds the court, has not followed the 1977 law’s suggested funding increases since 2008.

Carl Epps, the attorney representing the districts that brought the suits against the state in 1993, says the court’s rejection was not a surprise.

“We need to move along with the urgency of now, as they say,” Epps said. “It needs to be a deliberate process. It doesn’t need to be slowed down unnecessarily. If we can do things now, we need to do them — and expeditiously.”

According to Cynthia Roldan, reporting for The Post and Courier, Haley, in spite of the appeal, has proposed in her executive budget a education initiative that would support the recruiting of teachers to rural districts. A spokesman for Haley said the governor would continue to transform education in South Carolina because the state’s students deserve nothing less.

At the same time, task forces have been created by the General Assembly to gather information on how to improve education in rural districts. The governor, meanwhile, is bringing in an attorney who understands the case to brief the special committee created by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) to explain to the panel what the court meant in its ruling and what the state has to do now.

The Lucas task force is made up of five people from the arenas of business, education, and lawmaking, with many years in education and who were recommended by the plaintiffs’ attorneys from the Abbeville County School District, et al vs. The State of South Carolina case.

“Today’s Supreme Count announcement further confirms the dire need for comprehensive education reform,” Lucas said. “In light of the Court’s decision to deny a rehearing, I am hopeful that the House Education Task Force will immediately begin its work to develop a robust strategy that ensures every child is given access to the best possible education in every part of our state. These five representatives from the Abbeville v. State case will provide significant insight and help create standards that put our state back on a path towards excellence.”