The news came down last night that after a 21-year-long court fight against the S.C. General Assembly, advocates for poor school districts - and students - in this state finally won when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled in their favor.
As Joe Biden would say, this is a big effing deal.
From an article about the historic ruling:
The fact that a generation of school children has passed through the schoolhouse doors since 1993 — when 39 school districts filed an initial lawsuit in Lee County seeking equity in education funding — was not lost on the high court.
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“Thousands of South Carolina’s schoolchildren – the quintessential future of our state – have been denied this opportunity, due to no more than historical accident,” said Chief Justice Jean Toal, writing for the majority, which included justices Donald Beatty and Kaye Hearn.
While the poor, rural districts bear some responsibility for their chronically low academic performance, the court stated: “Nevertheless, it is the Defendants who must take the principal initiative, as they bear the burden articulated by our state’s Constitution, and have failed in their constitutional duty to ensure that students in the Plaintiff Districts receive the requisite educational opportunity.”
Gov. Nikki Haley is a product of South Carolina rural schools like the ones at the heart of this lawsuit, as am I.
She and I disagree about a lot, but on this issue, we both seem to understand the importance of equalizing the funding structure, to give poor kids a better shot at an adequate education.
Here’s to hoping she will take this an opportunity to push forward on her promises.
On the issue of health care, she left a few hundred thousand poor South Carolina residents out to dry when she refused money for a Medicaid expansion because of overtly political concerns.
Though she must get help from the General Assembly, with this ruling, she has a chance to make the lives of countless poor kids better.
Here is more background about the case:
“There’s no question that this is one of the most delayed rulings in our history,” said lead plaintiff attorney Carl Epps. The trial amassed at least 20,000 pages of presented documents and 100 witnesses, according to Epps.
Epps said that if the court rules in favor of the plaintiff districts, it would affirm that the state is not providing the necessary resources for students to succeed. The court would then likely direct state lawmakers to design a plan to fix it.
Race has remained an unspoken undercurrent throughout the trial, even down to the venue.
Arguments were heard in Clarendon County, where a case was brought 65 years ago that eventually contributed to the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision abolishing segregation. Early on in the Abbeville case, however, the court cordoned off the topic of racial discrimination, forcing the plaintiff’s attorneys to focus arguments on poverty.
In this case, race and poverty are indistinguishable, Epps said.
The state will provide a pre-emptive stopgap in the year ahead, having approved an education spending plan put forth by Gov. Nikki Haley that will add $180 million more to K-12 spending, aimed directly at poverty. The spending plan includes $30 million for elementary-level reading coaches and will amount to $97 million more funneled to impoverished districts in the coming year.