Satisfying the court
The conservative majority that reigns supreme in both the legislative and executive branches in Topeka do not take kindly to advice from the third supposed co-equal, the judiciary. Even orders from the Kansas Supreme Court are met begrudgingly — or threatened to be ignored.
When the state’s highest court told the Legislature its method of funding public education was unconstitutional because there were disparities between rich and poor school districts, lawmakers got to work crafting a fix. The result was passed during the weekend with no support from moderates in either party and, more than likely, will create even more disparity between districts. The legislation also will provide public money to private schools via a creative method of tax breaks to corporations that give away scholarships, which will put districts in even more of a financial bind. To top it all off, Gov. Sam Brownback will be able to sign into law the elimination of due process for teachers.
“The school finance bill passed by the Legislature today fully complies with and, indeed, exceeds the requirements of the recent Supreme Court ruling for funding schools,” Brownback said.
It did fulfill the court’s directive to equalize funding for local option budgets and capital outlay budget by pushing an additional $126 million into the system. But because Kansas is on that glide-path to zero income taxes, Topeka does not have a lot of options to create that money. The governor still is awaiting the economy to grow by virtue of his tax policies.
The bill also gives districts the authority to increase local option budgets up to 33 percent from the current 31 percent cap. This will satisfy rich districts in Johnson County that actually had patrons suing the state for this right. There won’t be many other communities throughout the state that will be able to afford this route but if they could, it would effectively push a portion of the state’s constitutionally mandated payments down to district patrons.
The $10 million tax credit ploy will give large companies the ability to eliminate up to 70 percent of their tax liability if they donate to a scholarship fund for poor and at-risk students to attend private schools. The state can afford to do this because if a child isn’t going to a public school, the state won’t have to pay the approximate $4,000 in base state aid to a district. It is a not-so-cleverly-disguised voucher system.
And then there’s the matter of firing so-called “tenured” teachers without cause. Currently, teachers who have at least three years’ experience were entitled to a hearing with a third party if dismissed. With the new law, no such due process. So any teacher who is gay, not liked by a group of parents, or gives the school board member’s son his first “B” could be removed at will. No questions asked.
So who are the winners?
We’d start with Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce who backed the policy changes that didn’t even get vetted by a committee, let alone be examined in public.
We throw in Brownback and the overly conservative majority in both chambers of the Statehouse, who are finding new ways to starve local governments, reduce state services, weaken unions and dismantle public education.
The losers? Teachers. Administrators. School districts and the towns they serve. And, most sadly of all, children. They’re not old enough to see the chicanery masquerading as public service. But they are young enough to be affected their entire lives by bad policy decisions in the education arena.
Expect the situation to degrade even further when the lower court rules on the adequacy — or lack thereof — of state funding.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry