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Court ruling may be political success, but educational failure


The Kansas Supreme Court accomplished one remarkable thing with its school finance ruling last week. It threaded the needle so carefully that nearly everyone — at least in the political arena — walked away feeling like they'd won a little something.

That's not bad, considering that before the decision nearly every news outlet, from the Winfield Courier to the New York Times, was predicting the decision could lead to a constitutional showdown with the Kansas Legislature.

Instead, Republicans walked away feeling validated that the court had paid due deference to the Legislature's role in setting budgets. And Democrats walked away armed with new ammunition to claim Republicans have underfunded schools, especially poorer schools.

Politically, it was a master stroke that avoided a potentially bitter confrontation that could have permanently damaged the court itself. But it may have come at a huge cost to schools. Because by backing away from the “actual cost” model of determining adequate funding, and instead adopting the so-called “Rose” factors, the court lowered the bar for what can be deemed a constitutional level of funding in Kansas.

The Rose factors lay out a set of educational outcomes that the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled was sufficient for that state in 1989. They specifically reference outcomes in reading and writing, social studies and government, health, the arts and vocational training. They suggest that students coming out of Kentucky public schools should have sufficient knowledge, skills and training in those areas "to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization," and to "compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states."

Here are three things to remember about the Rose standards:

First, they were established 25 years ago, before advent of the Internet, and before the subsequent shift in the United States to a knowledge-based economy.

Second is the noticeable absence of two key words from those standards: “science” and “mathematics.” They appear nowhere in the seven-point Rose test. Nor, for that matter, do the words “technology” or “computer literacy.”

And third, they mention nothing of the fact that students in the 21st century are expected to compete in a global marketplace, not just against those in "surrounding states."

So by adopting the Rose standards as the constitutional touchstone for school finance in Kansas, the Supreme Court has made Missouri and Oklahoma the standards of acceptability for educational outcomes, even though students' primary competitors today are more likely to be found in places such as China, India and the European Union.

By harkening back to Kentucky at the end of the industrial age to set 21st century educational standards for Kansas, the Court ignored one fact. We already have an institution in Kansas endowed with constitutional power to set such standards. It's called the Kansas State Board of Education, a democratically elected body that has already established curriculum and accreditation standards, including science and math, that far exceed those envisioned by the Rose court.

The question now is to what extent the Kansas Supreme Court has undercut the state board by giving the Legislature a free pass to fund Kansas schools at a lower standard.


Dave Trabert 4 years, 2 months ago

It's not surprising that Peter Hancock thinks money is how one should measure education standards; it's representative of the notion that has dominated education policy in Kansas wherein institutional wants take priority over student needs.

The Supreme Court said that outcomes matter more than money. Funding is certainly important but learning is how adequacy should be measured. It's quite noteworthy that Mr. Hancock thinks giving higher priority to learning equates to lowering standards.

In adopting the Rose standards as the official minimum required to meet adequacy, the Court noted that those standards are already very nearly in statute. They simply said the state already has student-focused standards and outcomes matter more than inputs.

It's high time that this notion of more money being the litmus test for support of education and other services be set aside. "Show how much you support X by spending more on it" is no way to run a government - or meet citizens' needs.

James Howlette 4 years, 2 months ago

Know what's also not a way to meet a government or people's needs? Turning an adequately funded state and school system into a shell of its former self by giving the money away in income tax cuts to the Kochs that provide no incentive for growth.

Also on the list: dark-money financed astroturf "school choice" movements.

Mark Rainey 4 years, 2 months ago

It's not surprising that an ALEC hired gun is the first poster. Mr Trabert is a paid expert on everything from teaching, school finance, retirement funding, oil pipeline viability, to wind farms.(He hates them.)

Deb Geraghty 4 years, 2 months ago

"Threading the needle" is a polite way to describe the Court's cowardice in their struggle to justify the Legislature stealing from Kansas students. Student-focused standards sound good ... unless they're 25 years out of date and woefully inadequate. No math? That's not even all of the three Rs!

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