- Associated Press - Thursday, June 22, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - House Speaker Jay Lucas asked South Carolina’s high court Thursday to either end its oversight over a 24-year-old education funding case or release the House from further orders.

The House has proven its willingness to comply with the state Supreme Court’s demand to fix the education system, Lucas said.

The filing details legislation passed over the past two years and additional proposals passed by the House and stuck in the Senate. The latter includes legislation borrowing up to $200 million annually to repair dilapidated schools. Lucas called it the “crown jewel” of education bills passed by the House.

“Good faith on the part of the House cannot be denied,” he wrote. “The House acknowledges other parties have more work to do.”

The Senate has yet to file its report. But a draft provided to The Associated Press notes the Senate’s education study committee is starting to analyze a recently completed report on statewide school building needs.

The Senate hasn’t acted on the bill “because it is important to have an unvarnished, accurate, third-party assessment of the needs of our school districts,” it reads.

The budget that takes effect July 1 does provide $55 million for grants to 51 qualifying high-poverty school districts. It’s expected to largely be used for roof repairs.

Lucas told justices their “only possible rationale” for retaining oversight or refusing to at least dismiss the House would be to act as “some sort of a super-legislature” by evaluating legislators’ policy proposals. That would violate the constitution’s required separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches, he said.

Justices ruled in 2014 that students in poor, rural districts lack educational opportunities and ordered legislators and district officials to work together to fix the problem.

The ruling cited issues including decrepit buildings, poor districts’ inability to attract and keep good teachers and inadequate busing that results in hourslong commutes for some students. It faulted state funding formulas, which date to 1977, as an outdated, fractured “scheme.”

But the ruling also scolded districts for putting a priority on athletics and spending too much on administrative costs. The 2014 order asked both sides to consider consolidating districts.

Recently completed efficiency studies should help legislators make consolation proposals, the Senate’s report will say.

Legislators included money in the budget to buy school buses, but Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed it, saying lottery profits should only go to college scholarships. Lucas notes legislators can override that veto whenever they reconvene. They may not return before January.

Lucas reminded justices they said in their 2014 ruling they have no intention of usurping legislators’ authority in determining how opportunities should be improved.

Last fall, justices ordered the Legislature and districts that initially sued in 1993 to submit progress reports by June 30.

It’s the second round of progress reports required by court order. Last summer, the House and Senate submitted a joint report and asked justices to end their oversight. The high court refused.

Lawyers for the districts criticized that filing as simply an account of legislative meetings and list of budget items that don’t address the problems. They complained that most of the additional money was districted to districts statewide instead of to the districts in need.

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