The S.C. Supreme Court will continue its oversight of a landmark 1993 school-equity lawsuit brought against the state by poor, rural school districts that say they need more money.
In its order, dated Tuesday, the state’s highest court also called on S.C. lawmakers and the districts that sued the state to update it by June 30 on steps both have taken to fix constitutional violations in the state’s K-12 public schools.
The order is a response to the school districts’ request for the court to stay involved in the case. That request came after state leaders asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, citing the steps the Legislature already has taken to address inequities in public education identified in the court’s 2014 ruling.
The school districts have criticized the state for passing laws calling for more studies – not immediate reforms – and for not focusing enough on helping poor schools.
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But the court disagreed with those criticisms as “unnecessary and unfounded.”
It praised lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley for their efforts, saying it expected the state to study what would be necessary to ensure students in poor schools have access to “a minimally adequate education.”
The court also said it wants the school districts to report next year on their progress toward fulfilling its 2014 order. In particular, the court wants to know whether the poor districts have considered consolidation and “the prudence of creating school districts filled with students of the most disadvantaged socioeconomic background, exposing students ... to substandard educational inputs, and then maintaining that nothing can be done to improve those school districts’ unacceptable performances.”
The school districts are happy with the court’s order but disagree with its assessment of the state’s progress toward addressing the lawsuit, said Carl Epps, the districts’ attorney.
“Our clients stand ready to work with the Legislature and Gov. Haley’s office in a collaborative fashion, as they have always have been, to do everything they can to help the students we represent,” Epps said.
S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said the court’s order validates the work his education task force has done and also noted the plaintiff school districts “have failed to fully comply” with the court.
“Reforming South Carolina’s education system requires more than legislative action, and every interested party must work together to improve every child’s access to a 21st Century education.”