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SPOTLIGHT
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Time for a legislative history lesson

Published on -2/25/2013, 9:09 AM

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On Thursday, the Kansas Senate passed a resolution that attempts to clarify that funding of public education should be solely the responsibility of the Legislature.

The resolution would insert the following language into the Kansas Constitution: "The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power under Article 2 of the Constitution of the state of Kansas and as such shall be established solely by the Legislature."

The resolution will next go to the House of Representatives for consideration, but I have concerns that inserting that sentence into the Constitution would have far-reaching consequences.

A few days ago, I came across some very interesting background on this issue. Article 6b of the Constitution says "The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." This language was amended into the Constitution in 1966.

The really interesting thing is what else was going on at that time.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that all state legislative bodies must be apportioned based upon population rather than geography or any other means. This doctrine of equal representation, or "one person, one vote," meant that the Kansas House of Representatives no longer could be apportioned one representative per county with a few extra allocated to the larger cities in the state.

1966 was the last year that the Kansas House was apportioned under the old system, and it seems very likely the members of that predominantly rural Legislature understood "one person, one vote" would forever change the character of the Kansas House. They no doubt understood that future legislatures would become increasingly urbanized. And that raised the prospect that, at some point, an urban-oriented Legislature might adopt a school funding formula that would disadvantage rural school children relative to their counterparts in the cities of Kansas.

The solution those rural legislators apparently devised was to lock language into the Constitution that would ensure suitable funding for the education of all Kansas school children. In my opinion, they met their objective very well.

Though the present school finance formula is not perfect, it has been crafted and refined over a period of decades to balance the needs of diverse student populations throughout the state.

But now, thanks to a series of contentious court rulings, some folks want to change the constitutional language and remove the possibility of future court challenges regarding school funding.

The rural legislators of the 1960s recognized putting that power strictly in the hands of the Legislature would be a very bad thing for rural Kansas. I am thankful for their wisdom and leadership of nearly 50 years ago, and I am committed to their objective -- equal educational opportunity for all Kansas children.

This little peek into the past is verification of the old saying, "Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

Problem is, if rural Kansans cannot value the foresight of those who went before, it is quite possible that we will never again be able to restore the constitutional protection of equal educational opportunity.

Don Hineman represents the 118th House District dhineman@st-tel.net

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