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Eagle editorial: Court not to blame on school finance

  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP legislative leaders are trying to pre-emptively blame the Kansas Supreme Court if a school-funding ruling goes against them. Don’t buy it.

Any budget problems caused by the court ruling will be Brownback’s and the Legislature’s fault. They approved massive income tax cuts when they knew they were not honoring their school-funding obligations and were likely to be called on it.

Speaking at a Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce event last week, Brownback predicted that the court’s ruling, which is expected in January, could dominate next year’s legislative session. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, was more specific and confrontational.

“If we do get that ruling down, what we’re going to do is focus on what is the role of the Supreme Court,” Wagle said. “Should they be interpreting law? Should they be appropriating money?”

Apparently Wagle doesn’t understand the court’s role in a democracy and its responsibility to uphold the Kansas Constitution. Also, the Legislature’s own attempts in recent years to limit lawsuits and restrict the court’s authority are recognition of the court’s role in school funding.

It’s also noteworthy that Wagle didn’t argue that the state is meeting its constitutional requirement to suitably finance K-12 education. The state’s attorneys also focused mostly on technical issues about legal standing and not adequate funding during last month’s Supreme Court hearing.

“In doing so, they’re clearly admitting that if they lose, there’s no evidence to suggest Kansas education funding is adequate for our kids,” said Wichita attorney Alan Rupe, who represented school districts in the lawsuit.

The Legislature’s own studies concluded that the state is not suitably funding schools. These studies, not judicial activism, helped form the basis of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the state in 2006, which resulted in the Legislature agreeing to significantly increase school funding.

After the Legislature reneged on that pledge and cut education funding, the school districts went back to court. A special three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the state was violating its constitutional mandate and needed to restore at least $400 million in funding.

Some GOP lawmakers complain that the state can’t afford such an increase and are warning that doing so would require more funding cuts to universities, social services and other state programs. But the reason the state is short of money is because they and Brownback recklessly cut taxes.

Now that they may be held accountable, they are blaming others instead of themselves.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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