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Kansas legislature

Kansas Legislature

Senate approves constitutional amendment to remove courts from school finance decisions

February 20, 2013, 5:55 p.m. Updated February 20, 2013, 6:26 p.m.

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— The Kansas Senate on Wednesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the courts from school finance decisions and give exclusive power to the Legislature on how much state funding public schools receive.

Supporters of the measure said it was needed to rein in overreaching judges, while opponents said it would let legislators avoid their constitutional duty to adequately fund schools.

The resolution passed on a 27-13 vote, just enough to satisfy the two-thirds required majority for constitutional amendments. Only Republicans supported the proposal, while five Republicans and all eight Democrats opposed it.

If it receives a two-thirds majority in the House — 84 votes in the 125-member chamber — then Kansas voters would decide the issue in August 2014.

Republicans hold a 92-33 margin in the House, though some Republicans have voiced concerns about trying to remove judicial review of school finance. However, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, has said he wants the Legislature “to make it clear that defining what is a suitable provision for public funding of education is a job for the people’s elected representatives — and no one else.”

The Senate action comes as state officials are deailing with a January ruling from a three-judge panel that the Legislature has failed its constitutional duty to adequately fund schools, and needs to allocate a minimum of $440 million to annual school funding. The state has appealed the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.

In the wake of a Supreme Court decision in a similar school finance lawsuit in 2005, the Legislature adopted a three-year funding plan but then started to cut those dollars when the economy soured.

State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said Wednesday that as revenue started to rebound, the state should have restored the cuts, but instead Brownback pushed for tax cuts last year.

“We welched on the deal,” Holland said. “It’s a self-inflicted crisis.”

But the sponsor of the amendment, state Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, said elected representatives, rather than appointed judges, should be in charge of school finance.

“This gives the decision to the people of the state as to who they want to make the final decision over one of the most important things we do here in the Capitol,” King said.

Currently, the Kansas Constitution states that “The Legislature shall make suitable provision for the educational interests of the state.”

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1608 would add that financing the educational interests of the state “is exclusively a legislator power … and as such shall be established solely by the Legislature.”

Comments

George_Braziller 1 year, 10 months ago

Yep, 'tis indeed a self-inflicted crisis.

"We welched on the deal," Holland said. "It's a self-inflicted crisis."

jhawkinsf 1 year, 10 months ago

To welch is sometimes considered a derogatory term, as in to imply that the Welsh people are dishonest. I doubt Mr. Holland meant it in that way. However, it's a term best avoided.

Kirk Larson 1 year, 10 months ago

We are not Mississippi. Vote No on this.

Pepe 1 year, 10 months ago

I think it is getting to the point in Kansas where Mississippi probably says the same thing about us -- i.e., they say, "We might be dumb, but at least we aren't Kansas"..

Jeanne Cunningham 1 year, 10 months ago

Vote and when you do, please VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS.

Shelley Bock 1 year, 10 months ago

Does this proposed amendment actually impact school financing? Everyone knows that the Legislature makes the ultimate decision and such is either approved or vetoed by the Governor.

Has the Judiciary been prohibited from reviewing the budget? Unless the Court is specifically removed from reviewing state funding, couldn't the Court continue to evaluate funding and make a finding as to the adequacy of legislative action?

So, if the "negatives" also known as Republicans protest the Court's action, where are they going to go and protest, the Kansas Supreme Court?

Pepe 1 year, 10 months ago

The constitution requires that the legislature provide "adequate" (I might not have the exact word, but it is something similar) funding for schools. As the law stands right now, the legislature budgets money for school funding, but the Courts have the power to review it to determine whether the funding provided is "adequate". As I understand it, the intent of the legislature's action is to amend the constitution so as to state that the legislature essentially has the sole power to determine what is "adequate" -- in other words, if they get their way, "adequate" will be whatever, they say it is and the Courts won't have the power to say otherwise.

So, to answer your question, if the legislature gets their way, it could greatly impact school financing. That being said, although I am definitely not a con law expert, I think that a succesful challenge could be made even if this amendment were to pass and that ultimately, the legislature would not be able to do this, even if the amendment were to pass.

Norm Jennings 1 year, 10 months ago

agreed. good post.

trouble is, like Wisconsin, there where be years of court battles where Gov Brownie has a de facto victory choking Kansas schools into a dilapidated state ripe for voucher system approval.

scaramouchepart2 1 year, 10 months ago

Kansas, Brownbacks little fiefdom. Let's ignore the constitutional requirements of checks and balances. This, according to the law books, triggers the federal constiution. As a state we have certain rights, but if the US constitution is violated then the state is in violation. Educational checks and balances from the courts - perhaps not, but spending state taxes - require checks and balances of all three and not just the two the governor controls.

average 1 year, 10 months ago

The Constitutional amendments are the place for the voters to finally push back against the direction things have gone in Topeka. Competitive elections require an effective opponent, and sadly there is no Democratic Party left in Kansas. (I love ya, Tom Holland, but I'll wager that not even half of the 32% of Kansans who voted for you in 2010 could name you today. The majority of Kansas can't name a single Dem in Kansas).

The amendment votes don't require an effective opponent. They are a simple "Yes, whatever Brownback says" or "Wait just a second here", yes or no vote.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

This amendment makes no sense. The courts are constitutionally empowered to review all legislative actions for the constitutionality. Unless the legislature wants to strip the courts of that power, which would make them both powerless and pointless, this amendment is meaningless. The courts can still declare the legislature in breach of their constitutionally mandated duties.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 10 months ago

This is what I posted yesterday, bozo, and it really goes to the heart of the "constitutional" matter:

"Again I repeat:

The legislature, years ago, determined the "adequate funding" needed to operate Kansas schools. It THEN proceded to ignore its own legislation by not funding as it said it shouild and would. Ergo, this suit is not about the legislature having the power to fund schools, because under that same constitution, it does, but about the fact that, under the Kansas Constitution, it passed a law doing exactly what it was supposed to do and DID NOT FOLLOW THE LEGISLATION. The legislature did in fact determine the "adequate funding" needed and broke the law by not doing what it enacted into law. SO, the Supreme Court said only that the legislature did not follow the constitution and needs to do so.

This constitutional bypass is unconstitutional because a state can not deny or usurp the checks and balances of its constitution. The suit is entirely unrelated to constitutional issues, but is based on a matter of one piece of legislation ignored and has nothing whatsoever to do with the checks and balances written into the constitution.

However, as noted above, this action"ll provide the attorneys appointed by Sam and the Gang to defend it hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. I guess that's what Sam means by job creation."

"Checks and balances" can not disappear, much as the Koch Gang would like, unless the populace helps by being led by the nose to actually rebel against the Constitution of the United States.

Best of luck, Charly, Sam and the Gang.

Hardhawk1 1 year, 10 months ago

The real problem for those who want change is that the Democrats have no candidate who can beat Sam in 2014. There is no serious, credible democratic candidate out there who has either state wide name recognition or the ability to raise a fraction of the money that will be behind Sam. That is the bottom line and the democrats are running out of time. They had better identify a strong candidate this weekend at their annual meeting and get started on an aggressive fund raising effort if they expect to have any chance of even being competitive. The reality is that the GOP will go after some of their new freshman representatives who are too moderate and the 2015 legislature may be more conservative that what we have now. In the mean time, all the hand wringing and teeth gnashing are not going to change the trajectory of where the state is headed, further and further to the right.

jafs 1 year, 10 months ago

That's why I think that a moderate R would be the best chance.

Let's hope that one runs in the R primaries - and enough people vote for them.

verity 1 year, 10 months ago

Then I suggest emailing Sandy Praeger or the person of your choice and asking them to run and telling them you will support them if they do. I've been emailing the Kansas Democratic Party and received no response.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

This is really a spineless move by the legislature. The only action that would make sense is to just remove the clause in the constitution requiring suitable (or whatever the wording is) funding for public education, since we know their motivation is to be able to gut spending on public education, anyway. But that would require a bit of honesty from them.

jafs 1 year, 10 months ago

Yes.

That's what they should do, but they don't want to, for some reason. I think they rightly fear that people would be upset by that, and not vote for it.

Centerville 1 year, 10 months ago

Here's an easier solution: tell the courts that if they want to raise taxes, they can also have the responsibility to raise, collect and distribute them. Or, if I had my way, just announce to the press that every man, woman and child in Kansas owes $140 so they should send their checks to the Kansas Supreme Court. I would give everyone the option of specifying the school that should receive their money. Then let Nuss' law firm charge each school district for the proportion of its fee. Simple, direct, makes clear to each Kansas what has happened.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

None of that is the job of the court. They did their job, and now it's up to the legislature to do theirs. They can do that one of two ways-- fund the schools as the constitution requires, or change the constitution removing the requirement that they do so.

This amendment does neither.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 10 months ago

The problem is "suitable" is open to interpretation.

jafs 1 year, 10 months ago

Yes, and the courts, specifically the Supreme Courts, are the body charged with interpreting the constitution.

Just as the US SC is the arbiter of an "unreasonable" search and seizure.

Congress doesn't get to decide that question.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

The basis for the courts' rulings is the legislature's own studies determining what "suitable" entails.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 10 months ago

And they did appropriate an amount that they later reneged on. They cut taxes which lowered revenue which then caused them to withhold funding. The court said they can't do it because they created the problem.

kujayhawk7476 1 year, 10 months ago

Only in Obama does more arrogance reside than in the republican members of the Kansas House and Senate!

Sen Jeff King is an idiot, just like the rest of his right wing wacko colleagues.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 10 months ago

So what is the big deal? The legislature is not changing the Constitution but giving the people a voice and the power to decide if it should be changed.

Why is that a bad thing?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

Aside from significantly underfunding schools for the next year and a half, and maybe in perpetuity, should the same Republican automatons who elected this governor and legislature get this amendment approved? No downside at all.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 10 months ago

So the people shouldn't control how their state is run and their tax dollars are spent? There is no certainty that the amendment will pass and if it doesn't then that is a blow to those that suggest the courts have no oversight.

As a person that likes a say in how my government operates I welcome a say in amending the Constitution.

Norm Jennings 1 year, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

I have no objection to letting the people make a democratic choice. But that's still no guarantee that they won't eventually regret the choice they made. And I don't think the automatons who always pull the Republican lever will be cognizant of the damage their choices (in electing Brownback and the current legislature) have inflicted by August of 2014. And the far right majority that controls the legislature knows quite well that the true believers that back them will turn out in high numbers during the primaries, while a large number of Independents and Democrats stay at home, which is why they don't want to put it on the ballot in November, during the general election.

jafs 1 year, 10 months ago

The simple counter to that is for I and D to register as R and vote in the R primaries.

Norm Jennings 1 year, 10 months ago

thank you Brother Koch.

enjoying your tax breaks. not worried about sending any children to public school are you! you have the $$ for private schools, and vouchers are where you want to take the state anyway, isn't it. just a few more years of starving the remaining value of Kansas public schools, and you'll have manipulated the support you need. Congrats, and Kansans deserve it, if we're too stupid to put 2 and 2 together.

jafs 1 year, 10 months ago

Yes, it's the correct process.

One can only hope that enough of the voters in KS understand how our system is supposed to work, and won't vote for an amendment designed to circumvent that process (which probably wouldn't stand up to court challenges anyway).

Norm Jennings 1 year, 10 months ago

wow, can't believe I'm agreeing with merrill.

have to add though, Brownie only does what the Koch brother's $$ tells him too. Who knew it would be so easy to buy a state government?

Can Douglas and Wyco secede from Kansas? If nothing else, might show prospective presidential voters what a POS we have to deal with here?

somebodynew 1 year, 10 months ago

One thing that keeps getting lost in this argument is the fact that the Supreme Court based their ruling(s) on a study commissioned by the LEGISLATURE that said the funding wasn't sufficent. All the Court is doing is sayin "abide by the rules you set". The Court is not trying to force NEW funding, just the funding the LEGISLATURE study said was neccessary.

I wish I could change the rules of my work everytime I didn't like them. I would enjoy that.

Katara 1 year, 10 months ago

I'm just not surprised by this anymore and that bothers me a lot.

William Weissbeck 1 year, 10 months ago

I hate to say this, but school funding issues are far too complicated for the legislature to handle on their own. The Senate only had their committee vote the day before and now the final chamber vote. So much for fact finding, testimony and debate - you know those things that courts take the time to do. Plus, the courts tend to but their prejudices and bias aside, to avoid the sectarian/political battles between the rural shrinking school districts, the urban poor, minority (Democratic) districts with shrinking tax bases and the suburban, growing, white (Republicans with the money) school districts. Don't believe me? What are the odds that the Washburn Rural, Shawnee Heights and Seaman school districts will ever be merged into Topeka's landlocked 501? In the 60's, these districts were in corn fields. Now these schools and tax bases are larger than 501's. 501 doesn't even reach to Topeka's city limits. It has become the urban poor district surrounded by unincorporated subdivisions.

Claudean McKellips 1 year, 10 months ago

I oppose SCR1608. The Kansas Legislature must not shirk it's commitment to adequately fund public education by removing the court's authority to enforce the "suitable provision for finance of... education". The current Kansas constitution clearly reflects the values of Kansans - we don't need to change it to allow the legislature to underfund education. http://changekansas.org/action/petition/protect-public-education-funding

Doug Harvey 1 year, 10 months ago

The courts have this power in order to save Kansans from the bone-headed legislature in times like these. It's called "mixed government" -- collective rule by the One, the Few, and the Many -- it's designed that way. The tyranny of the Brownbackians apparently knows no bounds.

John McCoy 1 year, 10 months ago

The same kind of thing is going on here in Texas. The matter of school funding for Texas kids is in the hands of a Republican Supreme court. The chairman of the Senate Education Committee is a former talk radio host from Houston who hates public schools. In short, our morons here are the same as your morons in Kansas. Why anyone who has children would move here is beyond me. Brownback is the illegitimate son of Rick Perry.

fearthetaliban 1 year, 10 months ago

Charles Koch has stated that if his taxes get any higher he's going to have to lay off six of his Congressmen

Lynn Grant 1 year, 10 months ago

Just another way for the wacko administration and its cohorts to say "so there, I'm gonna take my ball & go home". To heck with checks and balances, oh yeah, and good public education for all Kansas kids. What's next!

Larry Sturm 1 year, 10 months ago

If they would fund schools with the money used on frivilous law suits it would help some.

Centerville 1 year, 10 months ago

We're back to the main point: the more money we throw at schools, the worse the outcomes. Now we see the fruits of the KNEA's last grift: 30% of fourth graders in govt schools can't read at a third-grade level.

DrQuack 1 year, 10 months ago

Does the state of 2013 Kansas remind anyone of 1935 Germany?

KS 1 year, 10 months ago

Can any of you bellyachers name ONE school that you believe is underfunded and further just EXACTLY how much more money would be needed for THAT school to be funded in accordance to your own gospels? I doublt it. You have to be specific in your numbers. All you folks want to do is complain. If you don't like Brownback and if you don't like the Koch brothers that's fine, but I suggest you are way off when you blame them for everything that you find wrong with the State of Kansas. Look in the mirror. I have lived here all lmy life and frankly, I find it a very suitable place to live, except for the current snow, but eventually that will melt. If you don't like what is going on, why not get the he!! out of here?

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