Interesting deal, that newly introduced but long-awaited proposal to let voters consider an amendment to the state constitution that would strip the Kansas Supreme Court of the authority to determine whether the state’s spending on public schools is “adequate” or “equitable.”
It’s a direct assault on the court’s determination last October the school finance bill passed by the Legislature last year is unconstitutional, providing nether adequate support for public education nor even that it equitably distributes that money to the state’s 286 public school districts.
The resolution — which would have to pass the 40-member Senate and 125-member House with 27 Senate votes and 84 House votes — could wind up on a ballot for us voters to decide.
The choices are in themselves puzzling. Voters elect the Legislature which then comes up with a formula for distributing state aid to public schools with the target being providing equal opportunity for the state’s schoolchildren from border to border.
That means the Legislature essentially says how much of your income and sales tax (and a dab of state-ordered property tax) goes to those schools to produce the smart kids who are the lifeline of the state.
The Supreme Court last year decided the Legislature got it wrong. There wasn’t enough money appropriated to meet that goal. But many in the Legislature believe the court got it wrong and those justices don’t have any business making that decision, because it is the Legislature’s job.
So, is that critical decision on whether the state is spending enough of your money just up to the Legislature, or should those folks in the black robes have the authority (as they do now) to weigh in?
It all, or mostly, comes down to one of those Legislature-Court battles. Oh, and remember, while nobody likes paying taxes, those same nobodys also want their children and grandchildren to grow up smart, get good jobs and not live in the basement.
Problem is deciding just what is adequate for funding schools.
For most many legislators, what is adequate depends on who is paying. And, remember there are probably many voters out there who will look first at their tax bill and then the cost of educating our children.
You want to be elected or re-elected to the Legislature? You never go wrong by holding flat, or maybe cutting, taxes.
You want to be elected or re-elected to the Legislature? You probably come out ahead by providing a strong education for those children and grandchildren.
That’s the issue: Who decides, and whether the deciders are generally pandering to voters, as lawmakers do, or to the court, which is not elected, just retained if the justices do a good job. Nobody runs for a seat on the Supreme Court.
There are probably campaign experts out there who can determine who will vote for the amendment, if they get a chance. While taking power from the court sounds good to some conservatives, having somebody with authority to hold the leash on the Legislature sounds good, too.
While the amount of your tax money spent on all schools is a vital issue, if the court is blocked from hearing school finance issues, what if that protected, unrestricted spending authority of the Legislature sprawls to favor big districts at the expense of small districts? Or, wherever else a Legislature decides to take it?
Interesting debate ahead … catch phrases, pandering, fear of the courts.
See how this works out.
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.