Archive for Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sebelius hopes $466.2M enough to dismiss school suit

May 11, 2006


— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday said she would sign into law the three-year, $466.2 million increase to public schools and hoped the Kansas Supreme Court would dismiss the lawsuit that has forced lawmakers to increase funding.

Sebelius called the school bill a "good-faith effort."

"I would prefer that they dismiss the lawsuit. It's never comfortable operating under the shadow of a court jurisdiction," she said.

In the long-running legal battle, the Kansas Supreme Court declared the school system unconstitutionally underfunded, especially for low-income districts. Last year, the court ordered increases in school funding and told the Legislature to follow an education cost study in subsequent years.

Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for plaintiff school districts, said he would challenge the new bill that was approved by the Legislature on Tuesday because it provides less than half of the amount that the cost study recommended and also fails to adequately fund the low-income districts.

Sebelius will get the bill within the next 10 days and is expected to sign it quickly.

The focus will then turn to the state Supreme Court.

Rupe said he would soon ask the court to set a briefing schedule to analyze the new law.

Ron Keefover, a spokesman for the court, said he expected the court to act quickly on the measure. "As soon as they can, I'm sure," he said. Last year, Sebelius called a special session after the court ordered more funding.

Weseman not impressed

Meanwhile, Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman got his first long look at the bill's spreadsheets and said there's not much extra for Lawrence.

The Lawrence school district, with 10,000 students, will receive about $2.8 million in additional funding from the state next year.

Much of that, however, will be dedicated to specific purposes, such as special education and programs for students at risk of failing.

"It doesn't leave much for discretion," Weseman said.

As a comparison, Weseman noted that 20 miles west, the Topeka school district, with 12,600 students, will receive $7.7 million in additional funding from the state.

That's because Topeka's rate of students living in poverty is about twice that of Lawrence's, plus it has a lot more students who are learning to speak English.

"I'm not complaining that the money went to those districts, but the reality is that what is left is what it is," he said.

The bill allows districts to use their so-called "at-risk" funding to pay for full-day kindergarten - that comes to $787,119 for Lawrence - but Weseman said the allowance is deceptive.

"That is a smokescreen," he said. The district has more than 3,500 at-risk students, and Weseman said he couldn't devote all the at-risk funds to start up full-day kindergarten.

Sebelius said she was disappointed that the bill didn't provide the funding of full-day kindergarten. "I'll continue on those initiatives as we move forward," she said.

Multiyear plan

But Sebelius said one of the strengths of the new finance bill was that it provided money for three years.

The Legislature, however, frequently cuts multiyear plans in the future years because of revenue problems or shifting budget priorities. The new plan is paid for based on the assumption that tax revenues will continue to grow.

Sebelius, however, said the plan's funding was ironclad. "I am absolutely committed as governor to making sure that happens," she said of the funding.

House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, however, said lawmakers would reassess school funding each session to see whether cuts or increases in the plan were needed.

"The school finance debate will continue each year," he said.

Funding vote

Here is how area legislators voted on the three-year, $466.2 million school funding plan. The House approved it 66-54; the Senate, 21-17.

House Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, Yes Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, No Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, Yes Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, Yes Joe Humerickhouse, R-Osage City, No Ann Mah, D-Topeka, Yes Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, Yes Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, No

Senate Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, Yes Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, Yes Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, Yes


usaschools 11 years, 8 months ago

I will have to disagree with the Governor about this being a "good faith effort." This was a POLITICAL effort to AVOID working in good faith. The court clearly said that the legislature had a constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools. They were ordered to comply with the law by doing a cost study (their fourth!) and USE IT AS THE BASIS FOR DETERMINING FUNDING LEVELS. Rather than comply with this clear directive, they choose to do a cost study and then IGNORE it. The cost study is not the basis of the figures in the recently passed funding bill. Once again, the legislature is shirking its duty, putting politics above the children of this state.

erichaar 11 years, 8 months ago

Thank you to Representatives Brown, Humerickhouse and Tafanelli for voting AGAINST this legislation. This bill sets a horrible precedent in that it acknoweldges a judicial power that does not exist.

Those of us opposed to the fast-moving trend of America's judiciary usurping the role of legislatures need to take notice of what has happened here. We do not want our laws written by unelected judges.

bmwjhawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Wrong... that the Supreme Court's role is proper is not even debatable. They have ruled that the current funding plan violates the state Constitution. It's the judicial system's job to interpret the Constitution and that's what they have done. Unfortunately, the new plan is clearly out of Constitutional compliance, as well. It's nowhere near the amount recommended in the audit commissioned by Congress. The Supreme Court would be doing LESS than their job if they didn't rule as such. Any legislative attempts to usurp the judiciary's power are the actual indicators of a crisis.

bettie 11 years, 8 months ago

eric: did "unelected judges" write that bit of our constitution that says schools must be adequately funded?

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 8 months ago

".... that the Supreme Court's role is proper is not even debatable." This is an interesting concept. That the actions of one branch of governement cant be debated. This concept would be acceptable in Iran where there is a Supreme Leader. However I think that the actions of all branches of our government can be debated. These Judges are not elected and it may be debated that elected officials are the ones that should define "adequate education" in the Kansas Constitution. This is a subject that is debateable.

erichaar 11 years, 8 months ago

So using the logic of some of the above-writers, if the US Supreme Court ruled that, because the Preamble to the US Constitution states that our government must "provide for the common defense," an increase of $750 billion annually in military spending was required, they'd be all for it. Is this correct? I doubt it.

I'd reject a ruling like that from the US Supreme Court just as I reject the legislate-from-the-bench mentality we've kowtowed to here in Kansas.

Sigmund 11 years, 8 months ago

This whole debate revolves around what "adequately funded" means and the Legistlature shirking it's responsibility by hiring outside consultants to do a study on school funding. It was a political trick to try and remove the responsibility for actually making tough choices on the budget as a whole.

Instead of cutting the fluff out of the budget (remedial dog training for prisoners is just one recent example of such a "pet project", pun intended) and using the available tax dollars for essential State services, education being just one of those, they simply punted. Anyway once they commissioned that study they agreed to be bound by the results and opened the door wide open for the Kansas Supreme Court which not only walked right in but unpacked their bags and anounced they would be staying for a while.

While I agree that unelected judges have no business setting school budgets (this is why we elect legislators, and where this has happened before its not worked terribly well), we and the legistlators have no one to blame but the Kansas Legistlators themselves.

Sigmund 11 years, 8 months ago

Agnostic- One doesn't have to be an expert to set a budget or to prioritise budgets, it happens all the time and it works pretty well in 49 other states. KCMO went through a similar exercise and got increased funding but not increase in educational quality. But anyway thanks for your opinion sunshine.

Jamesaust 11 years, 8 months ago

"...because the Preamble to the US Constitution states that our government must "provide for the common defense..."

Uhh.... the Preamble does NOT so state that. The Preamble explains why the U.S. Constitution is being written - "to provide for the common defense." No duty or right flows from this Preamble. As such, no person has (what is called) "standing" - a right to sue.

The Kansas Constitution - in contrast - creates a specific and enforceable right to an adequate education. The Kansas Supreme Court, hearing an appeal from petitioners claiming that right has been violated, has ordered the Legislature to fulfill its constitutionally-imposed duty.

As the old saying goes: "A right without remedy is no right at all." The courts exist to adjudicate rights because the Kansas Constitution says so.

Opponents - like 'erichaar' - certainly could avoid this duty by amending the Kansas Constitution to remove or limit the right to an adequate education. They have not, no doubt due to the fact that they would be removed from office by the voters.

Instead, opponents have attempted to gain political points by taking advantage of the common contradiction of any democracy -- citizens wish for public goods X, Y, and Z but do not want to pay for them.

WilburM 11 years, 8 months ago

In the end, it's all politics. And that's a good thing. The Court played its role, the legislature its. Not a perfect legislative product from anyone's perspective -- but still a bunch of money for schools (as the Court ruled), without huing exactly to the Court's (or the Legislative post-audit's) exact mandate. The Legislature was responsive, while retaining its indpendence; the Governor could legitimately call it a good faith effot. Now the court will have to weigh its options, knowing that the Legislature has weapons (funding, constitutional amendment on confirming judges) at its disposal.

So it goes. Not always pretty, but a system in which the branches do affect and check each other; wish we could say the same for Coungress and the Executive in D.C.

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 8 months ago

WilburM has it right. And if the Judges are smart ( and they should be ) they will understand that they pushed their power about as far as it should go. The legislature sets the judicial budget, and can create or remove judicial districts. For instance the Judge in Shawnee County that tried to shut down the schools could find himself without a judicial district should the matter be pressed too far. Also there is the matter of possible constitutional amendments lurking around that would change how Supreme Court judges are appointed and retained. So if cool heads prevail this will now go away.

bmwjhawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Ummm... but what about the fact that the new plan doesn't meet the tenets of the "How much is adequate for education?" study and is, thus, unconstitutional? If the legislature attempts to alter the court system to subvert the judiciary's power, won't that be "judi-iciating from the chair," or whatever it is the legislators sit on?

bucephalus 11 years, 8 months ago

erichaar: Imagine a hypothetical situation where the following things happen:

  1. Congress, concerned about national defense, consults with top generals and military experts and finds that our nation is not adequately defended.

  2. After investigating further, they find that national defense cannot be improved without increasing funding to defense programs.

  3. They shrug their shoulders and do nothing.

In such a situation, would a Constitutional obligation to adequately provide for national defense require Congress to take the steps they had found to be necessary?

Feel like taking that one on? Or do you just enjoy setting up red herrings when the problems in your arguments are pointed out?

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 8 months ago

Well since there seems to be some misunderstanding about the fact there are three branches of government I suppose the court would take on the duty of legislature and comander in chief and just run the whole darn thing. They could even decide whether or not to declare war and also when to make peace. In fact why dont we just do away with all of those other branches and just let the Supreme leader and his 6 other consultants on the court just decide everything. That would be the ticket.

erichaar 11 years, 8 months ago

I feel there's diminishing value for me to continue pointing out that judges are not in a constitutional position to appropriate tax dollars, especially specific amounts down to the penny. That is the job of the LEGISLATURE. If principled legislators in Topeka had the guts, they would have let the Kansas Supreme Court take the unconscionable step of shutting down the schools.

And at the end of the day many of you are inadvertently helping push young parents, distressed by judicial overstepping, to consider the very legitimate options of homeschooling and private schooling.

bmwjhawk 11 years, 8 months ago

There's diminishing value in a response, but it's fun to be right. Don't confuse appropriating tax dollars with determining constitutionality.

The Supreme Court could continue to rule that the legislature's efforts are unacceptable until the legislature comes up with a constitutional solution, but that's impractical and time-consuming. In this case, mercifully, the Supreme Court told the lawmakers what they had to do to be in compliance. Unfortunately, the legislators on both sides of the aisle don't seem to care.

Kudos to the Supremes for doing their job.

Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

I will give my vote to a candidate that promises to clarify the state consitution with regard to education. I would change the wording to require that every child be given the opportunity to obtain an education.

WilburM 11 years, 8 months ago

There are no absolutes here, despite a lot of rhetoric that frames things in absolutes. And, even if you don't like it, the legislators, the court, and the Gov. are all doing their jobs. You can spin out whatever scenario, think through any hypothetical that you want -- but in the end, the very idea of a separation of powers means that powers are both shared and fought over. And that's what's happened in Kansas over the past several years. If the Court accepts the Legislature's efforts as good-faith and roughly addressing the "suitability" issue, then it may be over. If not, the ball will get batted around some more. Probably not too productive, but not the end of the world. And, as in baseball, there's always next year.

GardenMomma 11 years, 8 months ago

"House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, however, said lawmakers would reassess school funding each session to see whether cuts or increases in the plan were needed."

I smell a rat. This is NOT going to go away anytime soon! Reassess each session to see if cuts or increases are needed, gimme a break! Why not say it like it is -- they just barely passed this funding to shut people up and the legislature will continue to use this issue as a campaign plank in the candidates' platform.

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 8 months ago

WiburM paid attention in government class. But that was back when there was a government class. It went out about the same time as geography

WilburM 11 years, 8 months ago

No legislature (this one ends in January) can commit the next legislature absolutely to spend money. Just ask KU professors re multi-year funding. School finance is technically no different, but much higher profile, and with more powerful backing. But would you want today's legislators be able to dictate for the next X years exactly what should be spent, regardless of differing conditions in the future that might dictate very diferent choices?

johngalt 11 years, 8 months ago

Oh, I see - let's hire a consultant and take their recommendations no matter what. That is worse than the Sup Ct appropriating money (and let's not pretend that is not exactly what they did).

Let's not have a legislature, let's just hire consultants to determine what roads we should have, what degrees we should have, how many institutions of higher ed, what hunting season should be etc.

Some of you are really something.

bmwjhawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Next time, the legislature should consult johngalt.

MyName 11 years, 8 months ago

John- the legislature hasn't hired just one consultant, they've hired several and they've done more than one study and they've all said the same thing: the state needs to better fund education. It's one thing to ask for a second opinion, but it's another thing to ignore the truth because you don't like the answer.

The bottom line is that a large number of kids in this state are not getting an adequate education because we aren't paying enough to make sure they get educated. You can ignore what the consultants have to say, but it will be the legislature's fault, and the people who voted for them, if Kansas is stuck with an excess of ignorant people in the near future. It's cause and effect.

johngalt 11 years, 8 months ago

Oh I see MyName, it's the number of consultants hired.

Again, let's just hire many consultants in each area of State Govt and get rid of the Gov and the Legislature. That would be great!

These consultants were educrats; nothing more, nothing less. What would you expect them to say? We should spend less?

And please tell me exactly what about $10,000 per student is not enough.

In the last 30 years, we actually have fewer public school students in Kansas, yet administrators have increased 95%. Wonder what these expert consultants would have to say about that.

Also, please cite the study that says more money equals better performance. I am sure the KC MO school district is a great example of $$ = performance.

Since we spend more money that every state in this part of the country, I guess we should just be thankful that our state hired the right consultants.

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