Ernest A. Finney Jr. served nearly 15 years on the South Carolina Supreme Court, the last six as its chief justice.
During his tenure on the bench, Finney presided over and helped write an opinion addressing a challenge to the state’s formula used to dole out money to its public schools.
Known in legal circles as Abbeville County et al v. South Carolina, the Finney court ruled on the case in April 1999. It interpreted the state constitution as guaranteeing every student who chooses to enroll in a public school in South Carolina an opportunity to receive a “minimally adequate” education.
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That ruling left open the question of what constitutes a “minimally adequate” education and enabled the 36 schools systems that were plaintiffs in the case to pursue further scrutiny by state courts. Most of those districts serve rural communities in eastern South Carolina near I-95, an area dubbed by education activists as the state’s “Corridor of Shame.”
Third circuit Judge Thomas W. Cooper Jr. ruled in December 2005 the money distribution formula used by the Legislature since 1977 meets the constitutional standard, but he also said the state has an obligation to do more in helping prepare young children for the rigors awaiting them when they enroll in public schools.
The long-running school-funding lawsuit is now back before the state Supreme Court, which Finney left in 2000. The appeal could be heard this spring.
Finney appeared at Columbia College in a March 5 event sponsored by the English department and the school’s Social Justice Learning Community program, where he discussed the issues raised by the long-running lawsuit and his thoughts about public education in South Carolina.
Video provided by Claudia Smith Brinson, taped on March 5, 2008, by KB Bowman.