School aid

3/14/2014

Failings spur state courts to engage in K-12 funding.

Failings spur state courts to engage in K-12 funding.

State spending on education has been an ongoing saga in Kansas.

The latest chapter saw the Kansas Supreme Court rule the state isn't devoting enough funding to help poorer school districts with general operations and capital improvement projects.

The court also returned the case to a three-judge panel in Shawnee County to examine how much the state must spend to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a suitable education for every child. The state Department of Education estimated $129 million would be required for the next budget year to cover deficiencies in aid to poorer school districts.

Legislators received a July 1 deadline to fix the problems.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his GOP allies deemed the court's ruling reasonable because it didn't include a specific target for overall spending, and also said the Legislature has discretion on funding issues.

Still, we know Brownback and his fellow Republican ultraconservatives who control the Legislature would just as soon rein in the courts. Some would prefer to see school funding become a solely legislative function.

Ideally, legislators would indeed handle the task of determining and providing adequate funding levels for schools. The problem is in allowing politics to mar the process, and hinder legitimate attempts to address public school needs.

Courts end up involved because a suitable level of school funding is a constitutionally protected right in Kansas.

In response to the recent ruling, the governor also said his administration wouldn't give legislators advice on how to address the question of aid for poorer school districts, other than to "fix it." Of course, that's easy for him to say, with like-minded lawmakers dominating the Legislature.

Unfortunately, we also know of the governor's quest to hand-pick judges sympathetic to his radical fiscal and social agenda. Ultraconservatives want to control all branches of state government as a way to forward their agenda ¬­-- including deep cuts to public schools — without benefit of checks and balances.

No Kansan should want such a system of government to take hold and drive policy-making, whether in regard to school funding or any other key issue in the state.

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