Pyle's plan more about power than schools
Sen. Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha), the state senator for our District 1, reportedly has pre-filed legislation that he said would prevent any court-ordered school closure threats once and for all.
Sen. Pyle says that his proposal, if adopted, would amend the Kansas Constitution giving exclusive authority over schools to local school boards.
“In the past, there have been many constitutional proposals stating that the courts cannot close schools, and the statutes clearly state this,’’ Pyle acknowledged in his news release.
However, Pyle wrote, his new proposal is unique because it provides local control of these issues and gives exclusive authority to elected school boards, “not bureaucrats or judges in Topeka who continue to wastefully spend and grow government.”
Pyle’s proposal reportedly would need a two-thirds majority of the State Legislature and a majority vote of Kansas voters to become law.
“Our system of government has many checks and balances,’’ Pyle said in his news release. “This is just adding to that. Giving locally elected school boards this authority over their schools will prevent court-ordered unilateral school closure by the Topeka establishment. Local school boards need this tool to keep their doors open and to fight further consolidation.’’
“Make no mistake,’’ Pyle continued in his news release. “This is a battle for the survival of our rural schools. There is a massive Topeka administration and bureaucracy that is growing out of control. If we don’t take this step to fight it, soon there won’t be anything left to fight for.’’
Pyle said his proposal is needed to counter “extreme measures and bullying tactics’’ by state legislators aimed at “pushing their political agendas of more power and control by disrupting the education of children.’’
“Due to the April 30 deadline imposed by the courts, the proposal calls for a special election April 17, 2018 or the next practicable Tuesday following April 17, 2018,’’ Pyle wrote.
There is a lot more to Pyle’s news release than he indicates, however. Pyle and some other Republican lawmakers fear the Kansas Supreme Court could close public schools this summer if it doesn’t like how the Legislature responds to an opinion it released earlier this fall. They worry the court could block the state’s education funding — cutting off the dollars that districts need to operate — until the Legislature produces a new, suitable plan.
In October, the Kansas Supreme Court indicated again that the current way public schools are funded in Kansas is unconstitutional and gave lawmakers until April 30 to develop a better, more fair plan.
Pyle wants to take away the Supreme Court’s authority to rule on any actions of the State Legislature regarding public school funding.
In other words, Pyle wants to change the Constitutional rules since he doesn’t agree with the Supreme Court.
Attorneys for Kansas public school districts suing the state for fair funding contend that more than $600 million in additional funding is needed to fund schools adequately and fairly following several years of underfunding due to state budget plans that moved the state increasingly toward bankruptcy while businesses received tax breaks that the state could not afford.
Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat, called Pyle’s Constitutional Amendment plan a waste of time. Rogers also serves on the board for the Wichita school district, one of the districts suing the state.
Kansas residents don’t want to see the State Constitution’s education provisions “cheapened,” he said.
“It’s, ‘OK, I’ve lost the game and I want to change the rules and go backwards,’ ” Rogers said of a possible amendment.
Pyle said that by holding a special election it’s possible his proposal could get to voters before the April deadline set by the court and a separate June 30 deadline the court has set for itself to issue an opinion. He said a special election could be held in April.
The push for a Constitutional Amendment comes from conservative Republicans like Pyle. Democrats and moderate Republicans have been indifferent or opposed.
It is not easy to change a State’s Constitution, and rightly so. The better course of action for Pyle and the rest of the State Legislature, in my view, would be to follow the directive of the Supreme Court and develop a fair, adequate and suitable state funding plan for public schools – like the state used to have for generations.
The Gov. Sam Brownback tax experiment is over and it didn’t work for Kansas. Time to get back to educating our children just the best we can - instead of just as cheaply as we can.