Checks and balances crucial at state level
As frustrating and drawn out as school-finance litigation in Kansas has been, stripping courts of their authority over the state’s public schools is not a viable option.
In a lawsuit that is now nearly eight years old, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s method of funding public schools is unfair and that the volume of funding is inadequate.
The courts have given the Kansas Legislature until April 30 to submit a plan to fix the issue. The courts could close the state’s public schools if the Legislature can’t adopt an equitable funding plan that includes what the court deems to be an adequate amount of money.
Estimates are that the plan will need to include as much as $600 million more per year, an amount that many lawmakers fear will cripple the state budget. Lawmakers’ options are to increase taxes sharply or make double-digit cuts to other state services.
Some, such as Sen. Dennis Pyle, believe the Legislature should first take aim at a third option: Gut the court’s authority.
Pyle, a Republican from Hiawatha, has pre-filed a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved, would ostensibly hand over exclusive authority for public schools, including the authority to close them, to school boards. The amendment essentially would take away any leverage the court system has in enforcing school finance decisions.
“Parents deserve to have the decisions that impact their children and schools made by their elected school boards, not unelected judges,” Pyle said. “Decision-making is best left to locally elected officials who are closest to the people, not bureaucrats or judges in Topeka.”
Pyle’s amendment faces an arduous and uphill battle. A two-thirds vote of both houses is required to get the amendment on the ballot, and then it must be approved by voters. It’s hard to see Pyle’s amendment reaching the two-thirds standard in either the House or Senate, and it’s unlikely to come before Kansas voters.
Nor should it. The three branches of government serve the public good by providing checks and balances on one another. That’s exactly what has transpired in the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the school finance case.
The constitutional amendment effort is futile. Pyle and other legislators inclined to try to strip the court of its authority would be wise to focus their time instead on working with others in the state’s legislative branch to develop a school finance plan that passes muster with the judicial branch.
- Lawrence Journal-World