S.CAROLINA PLAINTIFFS REJECT LEGISLATURE’S COMPLIANCE REPORT

in NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK, South Carolina

In November 2014, the S. Carolina Supreme Court held that the state’s education finance system violated the state constitution. Abbeville v. the State of South Carolina, 767 S.E.2d 157 (S.C. 2014.) The parties were directed to reappear before the Court “within a reasonable time” to present a plan to address the constitutional violations, and the Court gave “leave to the parties to suggest to the Court precisely how to proceed…[and to suggest] specific, planned remedial measures.” The South Carolina House of Representatives appointed a task force that included representatives of the plaintiff districts. It held a number of hearings throughout the state and appointed five subcommittees that studied particular issues in depth, with substantial input from the plaintiff districts, distinguished educators and national experts. The Senate also appointed a committee of senators who also heard extensive testimony on the issues.

Because the parties could not agree on a timeline for submitting a plan, the court ordered the state to do so. The Court then directed the state to submit, one week after the end of the 2016 legislative session, a report detailing their efforts to enact a “constitutionally compliant education system.” In response, the legislature submitted a joint legislative report to the court on June 29, 2016. In the report, the Speaker of the House and the President  Pro Tempore of the Senate listed several hundred million dollars in increased appropriations the legislature adopted during the session, including a number of categorical programs aimed at high poverty districts and a number of bills aimed at restructuring aspects of the administration of the education system.

Plaintiffs submitted a reply in late July that stated that most of the new appropriations were state-wide increases that benefitted all school districts and from which the plaintiff districts would receive only a small share and that the other reforms constituted scattered items that nowhere compared to 19 pages of specific reforms recommended by the House Task Force. In sum, the plaintiffs argued that the joint report failed to address the root of the problem, the fact that the state’s funding system represents an “irrational patchwork of funding streams,” and it urged the Court to retain jurisdiction and order the legislature to present a plan for remedying the pervasive constitutional violations found in the court order and a timetable for implementing them by the end of the 2017 legislative session.

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