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Archive for Wednesday, July 6, 2005

A.G. activism

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline has been a virtual whirlwind of questionable tactics related to school funding.

July 6, 2005

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Something's just not right when the state's top law enforcement officer is actively advising other state officials to circumvent an order of the state Supreme Court.

And yet, that's exactly the situation in which Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline has put himself. Apparently not content to let either the Kansas Legislature or the courts determine the future of school funding in Kansas, Kline seems to be trying to single-handedly decide the outcome of this matter.

Having declared that his office "will continue to do all within its power that is legal and responsible to ensure that schools open," Kline has attacked the issue on numerous fronts, most of which seem out of step with the powers and duties of his office.

On Saturday, Kline was dabbling in the Legislature, saying at a news conference that a constitutional amendment to prevent the Supreme Court from freezing funding and closing Kansas schools would be an appropriate move. It would, he said, eliminate some of the pressure that was making it difficult for the Legislature to conclude its business.

A blanket ban on the court freezing school funding presumably would mean that no matter what the Legislature did or didn't do, the court would be powerless to force a correction. If so, Kansans would be without recourse even if legislators decided to reduce, rather than increase, school funding.

On Tuesday, Kline became a legal tactician, meeting with members of the Kansas State Board of Education and urging them to exercise a back-door maneuver to get around the possibility that the court would decide to withhold school funds. State school board members usually certify state funding for school districts on a monthly basis, but Kline advised them Tuesday to certify funding for the districts for the entire year - and to take that action before the next state Supreme Court hearing on the matter this Friday. The idea, according to Kline, is that the court couldn't prevent the state treasurer from distributing money once the amounts had been certified.

Various conservative legislators have talked about the Kansas Supreme Court being "activist" and "out of control." What about Atty. Gen. Kline? He is supporting an amendment that would take away the court's power to hold legislators accountable for properly funding schools and is conspiring with the state Board of Education to defy the Supreme Court.

Kline has acknowledged that another potential course to ensure state schools open on schedule is for the Legislature to comply with the Supreme Court's order to approve at least $143 million in additional funding for next year. To many Kansans, that seems like the most sensible option. Perhaps Kline could use his considerable influence with conservative Republican lawmakers to encourage them to comply with the order rather than dedicating so much energy to maneuvers to get around it.

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