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S.C. High Court Finds|Lege Failed Rural Poor

(CN) - The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that state legislators have failed to ensure that students in poor and rural school districts have an opportunity to succeed.

The ruling, ending a 21-year-old education funding lawsuit, directs legislators and school district officials to work cooperatively to design a strategy "to address critical concerns and cure the constitutional deficiency evident in this case."

"The substance of our finding today places before the parties a new opportunity, resting solidly on this Court's precedent, but leaning forward towards a conversation unencumbered by blame," said Chief Justice Jean Toal, writing for the majority.

The ruling comes two years after the justices reheard arguments on the long-running case. While it mandates that the parties have to work together to resolve their issues, it gives little concrete direction of what they should do and how much money legislators must now redirect toward the prevailing school districts.

At issue from the beginning was just what constitutes a "minimally adequate education."

While the justices said the school district must better identify solutions to their specific needs, they held "[I]t is the Defendants who must take the principal initiative, as they bear the burden articulated by our State's Constitution, and have failed in their constitutional duty to ensure that students in the Plaintiff Districts receive the requisite education opportunity," Toal wrote.

"Thousands of South Carolina school children -- the quintessential future of our state -- have been denied this opportunity due to no more than historical accident," she said.

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