Private Tax Credits | Costing
Out | Useful Resources
The four cases consolidated into Brown v. Board
of Education, the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme
Court desegregation decision, included South Carolina's
Briggs v. Elliott. Advocates in South Carolina
continue working to realize the dream of Brown:
equal educational opportunity.
In 1988, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed a circuit court's dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's public school funding system in Richland County v. Campbell, 364 S.E.2d 470. That case claimed the system was inequitable based on major disparities in per-pupil spending between high- and low-wealth school districts.
Abbeville v. State
Despite this precedent, in 1993, almost half of South
Carolina's 91 school districts sued the State, alleging
that the education finance system violated the state
and federal constitutions and a state funding statute.
The trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss,
but the South Carolina Supreme Court, in Abbeville
County School District v. State, 515 S.E.2d 535
(S.C. 1999), distinguished its earlier Richland
County decision, upheld plaintiffs' “adequacy”
claim based on the South Carolina education clause,
and remanded the case for trial.
The court also held that the education clause "requires the General Assembly to provide the opportunity for each child to receive a minimally adequate education" and defined that education to include providing students adequate and safe facilities in which they have the opportunity to acquire:
1) the ability to read, write, and speak the English language, and knowledge of mathematics and physical science;
2) a fundamental knowledge of economic, social, and political systems, and of history and governmental processes; and
3) academic and vocational skills.
During a 101-day trial, plaintiff witnesses described difficulties districts and schools face, including:
teacher turnover due to low salaries and meager benefits
in shoddy condition
numbers of ELL students
from poverty backgrounds, and
rates that vary between 33% and 57.
Plaintiffs, represented by Nelson
Mullins Riley & Scarborough, also presented
witnesses who testified about educational programs,
such as high-quality preschool, quality teaching, and
early literacy interventions, which have proven track
records of success and would, plaintiffs contend, greatly
improve student outcomes – if the districts had adequate
funding to provide them.
As reported in The State newspaper, defendants
argued that students in these poor districts are making
the same steady progress as students in other parts
of the state and urged the court to reject plaintiffs'
allegations. Counsel for the state defendants argued
that although the state has set academic goals for students,
those goals exceed what the state is required to fund,
which is only a "minimally adequate" education,
according to The State.
Trial Court Decision
In December 2005, the trial court ruled that the state
had failed its constitutional responsibility and ordered
the state to provide preschool and other interventions
through "at least grade three" to "address
the impact of poverty...in the lives of children."
At the same time, the court found for defendants on
plaintiffs' claims of inadequate teaching quality and
After the trial court’s decision, the legislature
failed in its 2007 session to provide the preschool
to third-grade programs ordered, and one plaintiff superintendent
claimed the lack of legislative action “gave us
no recourse but to handle it judicially.” Briefing
of the appeal will occur through the winter, and oral
argument is anticipated in June 2008.
In September 2007, the Riley
Institute published "In Their Own Words: A
Public Vision for Educational Excellence in South Carolina,"
to give members of different constituencies an opportunity
to share their views
on how to improve learning. State Education Superintendent
says he hopes that the study
will provide “additional leverage when education
proposals come before lawmakers” in 2008.
The South Carolina School Boards Association commissioned a study, released in 2000, to determine the cost of meeting the state's Education Accountability Act (EAA), which was passed earlier that year and was intended to raise standards and achievement state-wide. However, the state has not fully funded the EAA mandates. The cost study concluded that per-pupil expenditures for operations would need to be increased by almost 50%, in 1998 dollars, to meet the standards by 2010.
Private School Tax Credits
In the 2004, 2005, and 2006 legislative sessions, South
Carolina governor Mark Sanford championed a state system
of tax credits for parents who send their children to
private or parochial schools, or home-school them. South
Carolinians for Responsible Government, an organization
funded mostly by out-of-state supporters, has been the
most vocal proponent of these proposals.
The majority of South Carolina's poor and minority
students live in rural areas without private or parochial
school options available. They also attend underfunded
The State, Columbia, South Carolina's daily newspaper
of Shame, documentary video
Last Updated: July, 2008