Last week, "alternative facts" on school finance were sought by some leaders of the Kansas Legislature to help them meet the funding goal set by the Kansas Supreme Court. To say the least, this has certainly caused a real concern and rightfully so. Alternative facts have been a huge issue for some time in Washington. For example, prior to recent times, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Services was clearly the go-to place for analysis of any subject tied to action or potential action by the Congress of the United States. That changed sometime back when very conservative members of Congress wanted analyses to be more to their liking. With the ability to use their own facts, it was much easier to accomplish their agenda. Remember the Congressional Budget Office and their analysis of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and how it was dismissed without even a look because it did not represent what some members of Congress wanted?
Now it appears this practice is coming to Kansas and the legislature. We’ve dealt with ALEC (an organization that drafts legislation to be introduced that is clearly slanted to the far-right’s interests) for years. The funding for such work goes back to Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers who have also helped elect legislators anxious to do their bidding. But this direction moved into totally new territory when legislative leaders sought outside consultants to evaluate the current funding of public schools and, given who they sought out, it is likely to be a shot back at the Supreme Court and Dale Dennis. Dale Dennis has for many, many years headed up the school finance area for the Kansas State Board of Education and, in doing so, has huge support.
The practical side of all of this is that if the various interests in any given challenge can not agree on the basic facts to be used to work out their differences, final resolution will be much, much more difficult. Historically, Kansas has been a model of quality legislative research staff and revisors who legislators could work with to draft legislation and provide expert testimony to legislative committees. That started to change some time ago, but this move to discredit Dale Dennis and to reach out to a known right-wing consultant, goes way over the top.
That is why former governors (Hayden, Graves, Sebelius and myself) sent a clear message of support for Dale Dennis to the Board of Education in advance of their meeting last Friday. They were to decide whether to implement the setting aside of Dale Dennis, discrediting him to the point that the Attorney General was asked to look into fraud. Thankfully, the board voted (9 to 1) in favor of Dale Dennis, rejecting the request of Republican legislative leaders.
In a recent blog post, I wrote about how difficult the challenge of satisfying the court's ruling on school finance will be. But when you add into that the use of alternative facts, the challenge goes to a whole new level, increasing the chance of a real constitutional crisis over funding schools in Kansas. Decisions that are this important require us to operate from the same set of facts.
John Carlin, a Democrat who served two terms as governor of Kansas, now is a visiting professor/executive in residence at Kansas State University in the Staley School of Leadership Studies. Read his blog at johnwcarlin.com.