Editorial: Amendment wasted effort
The conservative attempt to strip power from the courts on school funding is deeply misguided.
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
Not 24 hours after the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling in the school finance case that offered the state an olive branch, conservatives began calling for a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature exclusive control over school funding.
Not only is such an effort unwise from a checks and balances standpoint, but also, the requirements to pass a constitutional amendment are such that time spent on the effort is wasted energy.
On Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state finally has an equitable and fair plan for distributing school funding and that the amount that the state plans to spend on schools in 2018-19 is adequate. But the court said that the increasing funding amounts for future years, which reach an additional $522 million annually in five years, was inadequate because they did not account for inflation. If legislators can make modest increases to school funding through 2023 to account for inflation, the state and court likely can finally settle the now 8-year-old Gannon v. State of Kansas lawsuit.
But with light showing at the end of the tunnel, some conservatives want to steer the train off the rails.
“It is vitally important that the people of Kansas direct how their tax dollars are prioritized for our students and it appears that a Constitutional Amendment is the only way to give control back to the people,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman said.
“The unelected bureaucrats of the Kansas Supreme Court chose to continue with the endless cycle of school litigation, leading us down the road to an unavoidable tax hike,” added Senate President Susan Wagle.
And from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a candidate for governor, “The business of funding schools belongs with the representatives of the people — not seven, unelected judges.”
Monday’s ruling was the state Supreme Court’s sixth in the Gannon case and conservatives feel the court has held the state budget hostage for years over public school funding.
But a constitutional amendment stripping the court of any role in school funding would face an arduous and uphill battle. A two-thirds vote of both houses is required to get the amendment on the ballot and then it must be approved by voters. It’s hard to see such an amendment reaching the two-thirds standard in either the House or Senate, and it’s unlikely to come before Kansas voters.
Nor should it. The three branches of government serve the public good by providing checks and balances on one another. A constitutional amendment giving the Legislature full control over school financing would deprive taxpayers of a method to address and correct grievances with how schools are funded, thus eliminating any accountability for state government to fund schools adequately and fairly.
Any time spent trying to strip the court of its authority in school finance decisions would be better spent working on the resolution of the Gannon lawsuit that is so close at hand.