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SC Supreme Court drops February deadline for education fix

S.C. lawmakers no longer have a February deadline to produce legislation to improve the state’s public-school system.

In an order issued Thursday, the S.C. Supreme Court replaced that deadline and others it had imposed with a new plan that allows lawmakers to come up with education reforms at their own pace.

Lawmakers have until a week after next year’s legislative session ends — normally, in June — to report to the court any “proposed, pending or enacted” legislation aimed at improving the state’s K-12 public schools. The new order does not require lawmakers pass any legislation by then, instead asking for a time line to enact proposals. The court said it will review lawmakers’ progress and will issue an order afterward.

The session starts in January. Any legislation not passed by the end of the session dies but could be introduced in 2017.

The court’s Thursday order is the latest development in a 22-year-old school-equity lawsuit brought by poor, rural school districts who sued the state for more money.

A year ago, the Supreme Court ruled the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a quality education to children in low-income schools. In response, the state House and Senate formed committees to examine the problems identified by the court and come up with legislative proposals to address them.

Two months ago, the court gave lawmakers until Feb. 1 to submit a plan to improve those schools. The court said it then would review the proposal.

Lawmakers objected, saying the deadlines – which they vowed to ignore – did not give them enough time. They also accused the court of overstepping its constitutional authority by trying to control the legislative process.

At lawmakers’ request, the school districts asked the court to change its deadlines, leading to Thursday’s order.

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said the court’s order was a “victory for South Carolina students, our Constitution, and the legislative process. It proves that judicial overreach will not prevail in South Carolina.”

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