Last November, the S. Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling in a long-pending adequacy case that held that the state’s education finance system violated the state constitution. Abbeville v. the State of South Carolina. The parties were directed to reappear before the Court “within a reasonable time” to present a plan to address the constitutional violations, and the Court gave “leave to the parties to suggest to the Court precisely how to proceed…[and to suggest] specific, planned remedial measures.”
Jay Lucas, the newly-elected Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, has now responded to the court order by establishing a bi-partisan task force composed of legislators, business representatives and educators from the trial and plaintiff districts to devise a solution.
The first meeting of the task force was held on February 23, 2015. At that time, Dick Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education and former Governor of South Carolina (and a partner in the law firm that represented plaintiffs in the case) addressed the task force and asked its members to “think expansively” and “go beyond minimal adequacy”; he also advised them to “think comprehensively” about long term solutions, and to “think strategically” in a manner that can start a new conversation that can lead to broad public support. Riley spelled out what he meant by “comprehensive” thinking by identifying 13 specific policy areas, ranging from early childhood education and health issues to increasing the rigor of the middle school curriculum and bolstering art and music opportunities to updating school facilities.
Michael A. Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, was invited to provide the task force a “national perspective.” He presented an overview of the history and current status of the adequacy cases that have been litigated in 45 of the 50 states, described in detail the remedies that had been developed in New York and Wyoming, the two states that the S. Carolina Supreme Court had mentioned as being “particularly instructive” for consideration in connection with devising a remedy for South Carolina, and presented a number of ideas, based on best practices around the country, for how South Carolina might create a permanent, stable system that would provide meaningful educational opportunities for all students in a cost effective manner. Two former state superintendents and Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, also addressed the task force at this initial meeting.