COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday gave lawmakers at least an extra four months to come up with a plan to fix how the state pays for schools in poorer, more rural districts.
The justices' order set a new deadline for the Legislature to issue a report on how they plan to adequately fund rural schools for a week after the 2016 session ends, likely in June. The original order by the state Supreme Court had a Feb. 1 deadline.
Lawmakers were angry about the February deadline. House Speaker Jay Lucas said Thursday he is glad the justices changed their arbitrary date.
The justices said they will look at the Legislature's end-of-session report and decide if they still need to oversee the case that started when the rural districts sued South Carolina 22 years ago. There was a 3-2 split on the order, with associate justices Costa Pleicones and John Kittredge again saying the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by setting deadlines and ordering around another branch of government.
Lucas created a task force in January to look at reforming the state's education system and it is expected to issue a report around the start of next year's legislative session. The Senate also has a task force reviewing how the state funds public schools.
The Supreme Court delaying the deadline "proves that judicial overreach will 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," Lucas said in a statement.
Attorneys for the rural schools suggested an end-of-session deadline, and lawyer Carl Epps said the state Supreme Court did the right thing.
"Hopefully we can now address the failures in our education system and create an environment that offers every child in South Carolina the opportunity for an education," Epps said in a statement.