South Carolina’s highest court has pushed back its deadline for the legislature to come up with a plan to fund poor, rural school districts.
The Supreme Court on Thursday waived its Feb. 1 date for lawmakers to craft a solution to the challenges facing those schools.
The justices had ruled last year in favor of a lawsuit from six rural districts that claimed the state is not meeting its constitutional requirement to educate students in underserved areas. After a perceived lack of action by the legislature this past session, the court in September set the February deadline.
Lawmakers balked, saying they were already out of session until January and that window was too small for a plan to pass both chambers. House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President pro tempore Hugh Leatherman filed a response last month, arguing that the deadline was “arbitrary” and violated the separation of powers. The filing claimed the court was attempting a “complete usurpation of the legislative and executive branches’ constitutionally conferred rights.”
The Supreme Court agreed to set a new deadline that would be one week after the 2016 legislative session ends (likely late June or early July). The court switched directions after attorneys representing the schools expressed support for the later date. The districts have representatives on a pair of special House and Senate committees that have been working to craft a solution.
Lucas released a statement shortly after the court’s order, saying it showed “judicial overreach” would not prevail in South Carolina. “All branches of government should collectively work together within their constitutional authority, not overstep bounds in an effort to exert political clout,” he stated. “After avoidable legal proceedings that wasted valuable time and effort, it is apparent that the Supreme Court has finally agreed that their arbitrary deadlines and improper super panel stand in the way of real education reform.”
Supreme Court justices are appointed to 10-year terms by members of the legislature.