Governor, Lawmakers in S.C. Ask Top Court to Reconsider K-12 Finance Ruling

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 31, 2014 2 min read
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Last month, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state did not provide an adequate education to poor and rural students under the state constitution. As this year comes to an end, GOP Gov. Nikki Haley and other Palmetto State officials are essentially asking the state’s highest court: Won’t you reconsider?

The governor and state Attorney General Alan Wilson have petitioned the court to rehear the case, Abbeville County School District, et. al. v. the State of South Carolina. They argue that major changes to public school finance have taken place since the case was originally filed 20 years ago, including several new programs that lawmakers agreed to this year that will impact the students in question. Haley outlined her “K-12 Reform” plan at the start of 2014, and legislators approved a $180 million spending increase for public schools in fiscal 2015 that incorporated several of her proposals, including a new $30 million budget allocation for reading coaches and a boost for technology infrastructure.

A separate petition from South Carolina legislators for the court to reconsider its ruling argues that justices’ current decision is “vague and unworkable,” according to The State newspaper. (The state’s top court didn’t prescribe a specific remedy that would pass legal muster.) In describing the motivation for lawmakers to seek a new hearing in the case, Bobby Stepp, an attorney for the legislators, said, “They (rehearings) are not routinely granted, but who knows in this case?”

It will be interesting to watch how Kansas lawmakers deal with a similar situation, after a District Court panel of judges ruled Dec. 30 that the state is not adequately funding public schools. As that case, Gannon v. Kansas, has played out in the courts over the past two years, legislators have occassionally expressed displeasure with what they see as the court’s inappropriate and politicized meddling in education budget decisions. State Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, voiced just such an opinion the same day of the lower court’s ruling.

If the Kansas Supreme Court upholds that Dec. 30 decision, how will lawmakers respond during an extremely difficult fiscal period for the state?

And don’t forget Washington state, where in 2014 the state Supreme Court found the legislature in contempt for failing to fund education up to the standard of the state constitution. State lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, will likely spend a lot of time and energy in 2015 on crafting a state K-12 budget that they hope will satisfy the court.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.