Wednesday, October 16, 2013
North Carolina Supreme Court Battles over School Finance and Pre-K While South Carolina's Sits on the Sidelines
North Carolina’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in its school finance case over whether the state must fully fund its pre-k program. The case is slightly more complicated than average because the state argues that the pre-k program is like any other education initiative and the state is free to change its funding and rules as it sees fit. The plaintiffs counter that the pre-k program was enacted as a remedy to demonstrated violations of students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education. As such, the state is not fee to renege on its commitment. I suppose the court could skirt both frameworks and instead base its decision on whether the current system, without a fully funded pre-k program, fails to deliver a sound basic education, but I am not sure that question was fully briefed or argued.
Regardless, I would expect a decision within the next six months. The North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have been pretty good at moving school finance litigation through their dockets and to final decisions. The same cannot be said of their sister court to the south. The South Carolina Supreme Court issued its first decision in the Abbeville school finance litigation in 1999 and remanded for trial. The trial was completed in 2005 and made it back to the Supreme Court in 2008. The Supreme Court, however, let four years pass without issuing a decision and finally ordered rehearing, which was set for September 2012. We are now another 13 months past that second argument and five years past the first argument, leaving many to wonder how many generations will pass through the schools before a remedy, if it is to come, is ordered. November will be the 20 year anniversary of the commencement of the litigation.