Editorial: Decision to hire King is puzzling

The Legislature has little room for error in its school funding plan; this selection is already the wrong call.

The decision to hire former Republican Sen. Jeff King to represent legislators in responding to the Kansas Supreme Court’s verdict ordering the state to increase school funding is questionable at best.

Surely legislators could find a better way to spend $50,000 than giving it to a former state senator who was the architect of a school plan the courts rejected and who repeatedly advocated bills threatening the funding and independence of the court system.

In March, the Supreme Court declared that current funding for public schools is inadequate and unconstitutional. The court has ordered the Legislature to come up with a new funding formula, with adequate funding, before July 1.

Senate President Susan Wagle said in late March that she wanted to hire King to advise the Legislature, and the Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 along party lines Friday to hire King. The LCC is made up of the top leaders from both parties in the House and Senate. By law, it takes five votes on the panel to approve a contract to hire an outside attorney.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2014 through 2015, King pushed through bills that made significant policy changes in how the courts are administered, including a provision taking away the Supreme Court’s authority to designate the chief judges in district courts. In his previous school funding bill, King included a nonseverability clause that said if any part of the bill was struck down by the courts, everything else in the bill, including funding for the courts, would also become null and void.

Democrats were rightfully critical of the decision to hire King, who announced in May 2016 that he would not seek reelection to his District 15 seat because he was disillusioned with statehouse politics. Democrats said King’s track record on school funding issues and the courts made him the last person the Legislature should turn to for help.

“We’ve got several instances of conflict, changing the way the court’s appointed, changing the way the court does its internal business,” said state Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat. “Also, this particular person was an advocate and the drafter of the plan that got rejected and found unconstitutional, the block grant.”

Ward is right — it’s hard to imagine that King’s antagonistic approach on school finance in the past will be helpful in the present. And with a deadline looming, the Legislature can ill afford missteps in the school funding process.

Hiring King feels like just such a misstep.