COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal appeals court has ordered the U.S. Department of Education to hear South Carolina’s appeal of its $36 million federal penalty for recession-era budget cuts.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the federal government should not have reduced its funding to South Carolina before allowing an appeal, and that the state will get its money back until a final decision is made.

The court heard the case last month. Its decision comes two years after the federal agency first said it would reduce the state’s allotment for special education because of legislators’ budget cuts.

The $36 million penalty was slated to continue perpetually, but congressional action last month stopped that threat.

The hearing will determine whether South Carolina gets to keep that $36 million being refunded.