CLAIMING STATE FAILED TO ADDRESS CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS
On July 21, plaintiffs, in Abbeville v. State, filed their response to the State’s “Joint Report” submitted to the South Carolina Supreme Court, arguing that the report failed to comply with the Court’s earlier ruling, which required the State to develop a plan and a timeline to bring school resources up to constitutional standards in the plaintiff school districts.
In November 2014, the state supreme court held that the State was violating its constitutional duty to provide students in the plaintiff school districts the opportunity to obtain a minimally adequate education. The Court based its conclusion on many facts established at trial, including low student outcomes, high teacher turnover, poverty, and “myriad other issues, under the State’s control, working to prevent students within these districts from receiving the constitutionally required opportunity.” Abbeville II.
In a follow up decision, the Court set a deadline—shortly after the 2016 legislative session—for the State to submit a plan and timeline for implementing a constitutionally compliant education system. Leaders of the State Senate and House submitted the Joint Report to the Court on June 29. Plaintiffs then requested leave to file a response, which the Court granted.
“The Joint Report does not offer a plan or a timeline for eliminating the constitutional violations,” plaintiffs argued to the Court, “[it] only details the extent to which the State studied the problems, but fails to set forth a remedial plan … as required by … this … Court’s order.”
Plaintiffs critiqued the Joint Report in detail, explaining to the Court their view that much of the legislation described was not enacted and the bills that did pass did not address the constitutional shortcomings that the Court ordered the State to remedy. Plaintiffs also contrasted the Joint Report with what they described as “a robust set of recommendations” issued by a House Task Force in January 2016, but not acted on by the Legislature.
Plaintiffs note that most of the Joint Report’s list of 18 educational appropriations are statewide and will therefore have little benefit for the small rural plaintiff districts. As an example of failing to consider the needs in plaintiffs’ low-wealth districts, plaintiffs point to an appropriation for technology upgrades that does not fund the added challenges of aging facilities lacking technology infrastructure. Plaintiffs also wrote that “the state continues to ignore the heart of the problem…that the state’s entire funding system has become an irrational patchwork of funding streams over time.”
In conclusion, plaintiffs requested that the Court retain jurisdiction and “direct Defendants, once again, to present a plan for remedying the pervasive constitutional violations outlined in Abbeville II,” the Court’s November 2014 ruling. Plaintiffs asked the Court to set another deadline, shortly after the 2017 legislative session, for the State to submit a “new report … including specific legislation targeted to address the violations identified in Abbeville II, and identifying as precisely as possible a timeline for implementing that plan.”
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications