Kansans should be pleased that their Legislature developed a school-funding formula last week before an April recess. The five-year, $500 million formula is apparently broken and will presumably be fixed. Some lawmakers thought it wasn’t enough, and others thought it was too much — but a formula evaded stalling and bullying tactics to pass both houses and awaits Gov. Jeff Colyer’s signature.
The Kansas Supreme Court will study it after that, determining if lawmakers’ formula adequately and equitably provides for public education as part of the seven-year-old Gannon lawsuit.
This is the way it works.
Judicial oversight creates division, allegations of bias, and most recently a push to amend the Kansas Constitution so that plaintiffs and state courts have no say in lawmakers’ decision on school funding.
No matter your view on school finance, we hope you think lawmakers should never be without legal oversight. It’s like taking an eraser to one of the three branches of state government.
Imagine the wild scenarios. Legislators cut per-pupil spending to the bone (or, theoretically, raise it to levels far beyond what schools need). Small districts’ funding is tightened in favor of large districts. Funding becomes uneven based on geography or demographics.
No districts or parents could sue for equitable and adequate funding, as the state Constitution mandates.
How is that a good idea?
Thankfully, many lawmakers don’t think a constitutional amendment has a chance, though it has passed a House committee and could be debated when the Legislature reconvenes late this month. Both chambers would need to pass it with a two-thirds majority, then Kansans would vote.
Amending the Constitution, as the new non-profit Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding has pushed for, seemed like a possibility a few years ago. Gannon was just as divisive then, but the Legislature was decidedly more conservative and the jury was out on former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-cut policies. Now, more-moderate chambers are in place after the 2016 election, reflecting many Kansans’ desires for change on school finance and other issues.
Conservative Republican leaders haven’t helped themselves. Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, lost credibility with a temporary blockade of school-funding debate, first demanding approval of the constitutional amendment. They backed down after criticism.
Moderate GOP member Melissa Rooker, of Fairway, said she wouldn’t support the amendment. “We absolutely need a backstop against this kind of legislative shenanigans.”
Rooker has it right. Judicial oversight can be frustrating. Frustrating but terribly necessary.