We're coming to what might become one of the most significant confrontations of recent Kansas history, when Gov. Sam Brownback inevitably signs into law the new K-12 block grant school finance bill -- policy and appropriations all in one.
The bill? It's just about what the governor called for in his State of the State address to the Kansas Legislature: Eliminating the current finance program for K-12 schools and handing out block grants for two years while the Legislature figures out a new plan for sending money to school districts.
But there is a three-judge panel working at the direction of the Kansas Supreme Court which is assessing whether the state is providing "adequate" support -- that's money -- for operation of the state's elementary and secondary schools to make sure our children get a good education.
And, that three-judge panel -- whether it is called "activist" or supportive of that constitutional funding mandate -- has put everyone on notice that it "may agree or elect to impose such temporary orders to protect the status quo and to assure the availability of relief, if any, that might be accorded should the court deem relief warranted."
What? Basically it is the court telling the participants in the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit over adequacy of funding for K-12 it could step into that appropriations bill, or law whenever the governor signs it, with temporary court orders.
Because the bill specifically eliminates that "status quo" finance formula and doesn't provide the amount of aid we're figuring the court wants, well, that sounds like the Legislature and the court panel are clearly at odds.
That panel could, essentially, shut down the K-12 block grant bill, freeze the money it proposes to spend and propel the Legislature back to work. That's a bold threat from judges, but at some point, it makes sense not to let the state spend money that might be needed to satisfy the panel that the state is "adequately" funding schools.
Now, that's just a three-judge panel, and if it goes to the end of the leash and prohibits the law from becoming effective, look for the issue to quickly wind up before the Kansas Supreme Court -- a blockbuster of a scrap between the Legislature and the governor and the courts.
Oh, and did we mention the current state budget that will be debated this week requires more taxes from someone or someplace to balance? And, that if the courts stop the school finance bill, there's likely to be more taxes needed to end the upcoming two fiscal years with money in the bank?
And, it is probably worth remembering that though there are 97 Republicans in the House, the school bill was passed by just two votes (64-57) with nary a Democrat vote for it in either the House or the Senate, where it passed 25-14.
Everything coming together now? It's the Legislature, and as soon as he signs it into law, the governor versus Kansas courts, or at least a three-judge panel the Supreme Court might have to either support or abandon. Or, there's of course the chance the governor won't sign the bill and it becomes law without his signature -- not exactly a high-testosterone way to deal with the issue by the governor.
So, where are we on school finance?
Will the bill become law? Will the three-judge panel figure a way to freeze the bill temporarily because it eliminates current law on school finance which is apparently constitutional, just not funded sufficiently? Will the high court step in on the issue? Will the Legislature look for direction, and to whom?
Lots of questions, not many answers, and this week, or maybe the week after -- when the Legislature starts its "spring break" before the veto session -- we'll see where this is headed.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co.
of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.