Current as of June 1, 2009
A U.S. District Court Judge in Columbia earlier today ruled that the S.C. Supreme Court -- not a federal court -- should rule in two of three pending lawsuits that have been filed to determine who controls whether public education in South Carolina will receive federal stimulus funds as intended by Congress.
The two suits -- one filed by two South Carolina students and the other by the S.C. School Boards Association -- could be heard in the State Supreme Court as early as this week, according to media reports. The third lawsuit, which was filed by Governor Mark Sanford to stop the state attorney general from enforcing the General Assembly’s direction to the governor to apply for the federal funds, will remain in federal court for now.
Court watchers say if the S.C. Supreme Court rules against Governor Sanford, the governor could appeal to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, though the nation’s top court rejects the vast majority of requests.
The lawsuits by the students and school administrators’ association contend the state Supreme Court should decide the matter because the issue involves a dispute between two branches of state government, and today’s decision upholds that position.
The timing of the hearings is important to both K-12 school systems and the state’s public universities for two reasons:
- Both groups usually finalize budgets and employment contracts by June 30, with higher education setting tuition for the coming academic year based on what level of support is or isn’t provided by state government.
- The federal government has given state governors only until July 1 to apply for the federal funds, though most state officials believe a waiver can be obtained if the matter is pending in court.
Governor Sanford opposes tapping the funds unless a similar amount in state funds are used to “retire debt,” something no other state governor has attempted to do.
Further updates will be provided to you as events warrant.