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Archive for Sunday, June 26, 2005

Direct approach

Kansas legislators should be focusing on the wishes of their constituents rather than their anger at the Kansas Supreme Court.

June 26, 2005

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If Kansas legislators are determined to amend the state constitution to allow them to abandon the state's commitment to properly funding K-12 education, there are more direct ways to do it than to curb the powers of the Kansas Supreme Court.

In an effort to send a message of discontent to the state Supreme Court, a number of legislators have been proposing various amendments aimed at curbing the court's powers. Among the amendments discussed is one that would eliminate the court's authority to review the funding of public education. Another says the executive and judicial branches should have no authority to direct the Legislature to appropriate any money.

If such amendments were approved by the Legislature and Kansas voters, who exactly would be responsible for holding legislators accountable for their constitutional duty to "make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state"? The amendments legislators have in mind eliminate the checks and balances so essential to a representative government. If neither the courts nor the governor has any authority to question whether the Legislature has met its constitutional duty, the Legislature becomes the sole authority to dictate what is suitable funding for public schools.

Legislators might argue that they still are accountable to Kansas voters, but voters would be hard-pressed to pursue a case against legislators without aid of the courts. If legislators want voters to simply trust them to make the right funding decisions without any oversight from other branches of government, why don't they just attack the issue directly by asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that removes the school funding provision from the state constitution? That would eliminate the issue of whether the Legislature's funding decisions meet constitutional muster.

A more moderate approach might be an amendment that would further define how the costs of K-12 education are determined. Either way, altering the state constitution's provision concerning public schools is a far more honest way to deal with the issue than to restrict the power of the courts to enforce the existing provisions.

Any constitutional amendments concerning reduced powers for the judicial or executive branches deserve the careful attention of Kansas voters lest they create some unpleasant unintended consequences. Some Kansas legislators currently are on the warpath because they believe the balance of governmental power has tipped too far away from legislators and toward the courts, but there seems a clear danger that some of the amendments being proposed could tip the balance too far in the other direction.

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