COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- The state Education Department will argue in federal court next month that its challenge to a $36 million federal punishment deserves to be heard.

Agency spokesman Jay Ragley told The Associated Press on Friday the court hearing is set for March 22 at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Arguments in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will come nearly two years after the U.S. Department of Education first threatened to reduce the state's allotment for special education because of legislators' recession-era budget cuts.

Education Superintendent Mick Zais wants the federal government to restore the money.

The $36 million penalty is what's left of an initial threat of $111 million.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan dismissed South Carolina's case last May, rejecting efforts to challenge the remaining penalty.

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