Suitable to whom?

Legislators defining a “suitable” education or curriculum for Kansas schools won’t necessarily keep the state out of court.

January 24, 2011


From a practical standpoint, we would like to think that every action taken by the Kansas Legislature would be “suitable” for the state.

However, that word has spawned considerable controversy in Kansas as it pertains to education funding — controversy that has landed the state in court before and may do it again.

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to avoid that and many Kansans would agree with his contention that defending state laws in court is a poor use of precious resources. To that end, in his State of the State address, Brownback invited legislators to better define “a suitable education.”

Like many Kansans, Brownback quoted a term that actually doesn’t appear in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, which covers education. The actual wording is that the legislature “shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” The sentence even appears under Section 6: Finance.

So far, legislators have mostly tried to define a suitable education in Kansas by outlining a curriculum for schools. That issue is more directly addressed in Section 1 of Article 6: “The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools…”

The effort now seems to be to figure out how much education the state is responsible for funding. House Speaker Mike O’Neal ,who has been assigned to lead the task of defining suitability, indicated last week that he expects the state’s responsibility to be defined as more than reading, writing and arithmetic, but less than it is doing now.

Presumably, if legislators set a lower standard for the state’s responsibility for K-12 schools, some provision would be made to allow local parents and taxpayers to build on that financial base. Although “equity” isn’t addressed in the state constitution, providing equal education opportunities to students across the state is a guiding principle of the current school finance formula. Reducing the state’s educational responsibilities would have serious consequences for those efforts.

An alternative strategy would be to ignore the curriculum issues and focus on the “suitable provision for finance” phrase. The state might try to justify its expenditures on public schools by offering comparisons with what other states are doing or some other measure.

The bottom line, of course, is that no matter how the Legislature defines the state’s educational responsibilities or “suitable provision for finance,” the Kansas courts will have the last word on whether that definition is what the writers of the constitution had in mind. Unless legislators pursue a constitutional amendment to define these terms, it will be the courts’ responsibility to measure any statutes that are passed against the existing language in the constitution.

The word “suitable,” as it’s used in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, obviously could be interpreted in a number of ways. It will be interesting to see what the Legislature comes up with — and whether the courts agree.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 11 months ago

Actually, the constitution, article 6, says the legislature will make 'suitable provision' for.... This will be an interesting debate, no doubt. The objective, no matter what words are used or ultimately defined in court, seems to be to spend less on schools and other vital social services. Since these items are about 90% of the general fund, it will be interesting to see what 'smaller government' really means and how those who rail against government but like the parts that help them are thinking. So far, people are only reacting; when the thinking starts it will become quickly interesting to all parties concerned. === " The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state..." What are Kansas' educational interests? We may soon find out.

Kookamooka 6 years, 11 months ago

If the U.S. is to compete or even triumph economically again, we need to continue to develop innovators. That means teaching children how to think outside of the box. How do we do this? Not through reading and math assessments. They don't test for or value creative thought. No. It's through the arts. All of them. Will only the wealthy be able to afford the arts? I hope not. Universal access to the arts was one of the democratic principals that made this country so great in the first place, like free public education for all. Unfortunately, we don't have free public education anymore either. There are fees and tuition to be paid in USD497 every year. It costs me upwards of 400.00 to enroll my kids. (I have a few)

gccs14r 6 years, 11 months ago

The Legislature shouldn't be defining curriculum at all. That needs to be left to the state BoE, but the BoE needs to be revamped to be made up of PhDs in education (who are current on their continuing ed credits) with at least ten years of classroom experience. The members would receive a 12 year appointment by the Governor (with one-third appointed every 4 years), confirmed by the Senate, but would be selected from a pool provided by some other entity such as the Board of Regents. We then need to scrap the idea of a BoE for each school district.

avoice 6 years, 11 months ago

Sounds like a pretty narrow group to me. Only the highest ranking members of the teachers' unions need apply.

gccs14r 6 years, 11 months ago

Not likely. Once you're a union higher-up, you're most likely not in the classroom any more and may not be up on your continuing ed. If you have your PhD, you're probably in administration and not in the classroom, unless you're a professor. If you're a professor, you may not be up on your continuing ed, since it's not required (AFAIK). Having the Regents recommend folks takes care of some of the potential for K-12 nepotism, too. Anyway, the BoE would be responsible for setting curriculum and standards, then it'd be up to the Legislature to figure out how to fund it.

George Lippencott 6 years, 11 months ago

Might not but it sure will help. 'Suitable" is not more-more-more.

By the by, you may have just given our legialators an idea. Do you think they lack the votes to move an amendment to the people or that the people would not buy a fiscally restrained definition?

gccs14r 6 years, 11 months ago

Not everything should be put to a vote of the people. Just because something is popular doesn't mean we should do it, and just because something is unpopular doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.

ksriver2010 6 years, 11 months ago

That "suitable" provision cannot possibly mean 1/2 of the state's budget, most going to administration (which Wichita has more admin per student than just about anywhere) and special education, the latter services being overtaxed (pardon the pun) by Hispanics who enter the school system without a word of English.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.