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Eagle editorial: Shame on Legislature

  • Published Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Shame on the GOP leaders of the Kansas Legislature for using a Kansas Supreme Court order on school-funding inequities as an excuse to undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking.

Too bad it’s pointless to hope Gov. Sam Brownback might veto the bill that passed with only Republican votes Sunday night, after an extraordinary weekend of contentious back and forth between the two chambers and peaceful demonstration by red-clad schoolteachers. After having been publicly AWOL all weekend, Brownback issued a statement praising the legislation. That response was disappointing from a governor who said during his State of the State speech in January, “We Kansans love our schools and they are great schools.”

Where was the love for those “great” schools as the Legislature voted to strip teachers of their due-process rights, subsidize private education with a corporate income-tax credit, and pass unproven ideological reforms while trampling on the policymaking responsibilities of the Kansas State Board of Education?

There was no groundswell of support for nullifying Kansas teachers’ 57-year-old right to challenge their dismissal. Though the Kansas Association of School Boards supports making some changes to due process, this wasn’t its proposal. There wasn’t even a legislative hearing on the proposal this session.

There was a February hearing on the bill to create a new corporate income-tax credit for contributions to private-school scholarships for low-income students – though not enough support to advance it out of committee.

Nobody even knows whether the new “innovative districts” program will work or is constitutional. Yet the bill doubles down on that accountability-free concept, which – like the bill’s relaxation of teacher-licensing rules – treads on the job of the state board.

As Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, asked: “Who really wants these policy pieces? Middle of the night. No constituent feedback. ‘We need to ram it home for special interests.’”

With such handling of the various bills, GOP legislative leaders also failed to reflect Brownback’s State of the State assertion that the “wonderfully untidy” business of appropriations is “open for all to see.” They held a conference committee meeting at 3 a.m. Sunday – after media, most legislators and the teachers had left the Statehouse for the night, and with insufficient public notice.

At least the ill-advised policymaking was in addition to, rather than instead of, the Legislature’s compliance with the court’s order to restore the equalization funding for capital outlay and local option budgets. And some of the week’s worst policy ideas didn’t survive. But there are questions about whether the final bill promotes more inequity in how it enables wealthy districts to raise property taxes while shorting some at-risk funding crucial to Wichita’s USD 259 and other districts.

The courts will be the judge of whether the bill remedies or aggravates the funding inequities across the state. More key judgments will come from voters – at the polls in August and November.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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