Kansas legislators scrounged up enough loose change — fictitious as some of it appears — to satisfy a court order that demanded constitutional equity before schools could open for the upcoming year.
The plan, passed overwhelmingly by both chambers during a special session, will be presented to the Supreme Court for its approval next week.
The good news is that lawmakers were able to raise an additional $38 million without further harming the state’s underfunded schools. The really good news is that the special session ended without any other legislation passing.
Perhaps lawmakers were discouraged after the Senate failed to pass an attempt to restrict the authority of the Kansas Supreme Court. Maybe these elected leaders recognized moving any more destructive legislation through at this point might harm their re-election chances. All 125 Representative and 40 Senate seats, after all, are on the ballot in less than two months.
We would suggest the super bloc of conservative Republicans already has done enough damage that none deserve a return to Topeka. One merely needs to examine just how they’ve gone about providing the children of this great state a suitable education.
Earlier in the regular session, lawmakers knew there wasn’t enough revenue to properly pay for public schools. So, laws were passed that reduced funding for both special and early childhood education. Payments for the state employee retirement fund were delayed, money for roads and bridges was confiscated, higher education was cut, social services were whacked, and bonds were floated to satisfy current operating expenses before legislators rearranged how K-12 education would be paid for in response to a court order that had found it unconstitutional.
Even in the special session, lawmakers attempted to inflict an across-the-board cut to schools in order to pay for the equity portion the high court had rejected. That attempt failed.
What did pass in order to generate $38 million:
• Inflated the expected value of Kansas Bioscience Authority assets the state plans to sell from $25 million to $38 million. On paper, that extra $13 million will go to the schools. If the assets don’t fetch the new price, which virtually everybody believes will be the case, the door was opened to take from the schools’ extraordinary needs fund or the motor vehicle fund.
• The remaining $25 million comes from motor vehicle fees and the state’s newfound portion of tobacco settlement dollars.
These are not sound or sustainable methods to fund any state function, let alone its most important. But it is indicative of what passes for law-making in the current Legislature. The entire session was consumed once again with crisis management and patching the newest holes created by self-depleted coffers.
Even with all the conservative Republicans out of the Statehouse, one big elephant was left in the room.
As the schools’ attorney Alan Rupe said in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “One down, one to go. Plaintiffs hope that the court, the state and the Legislature will now put similar effort to ensuring that Kansas schools are adequately funded.”
Just when the Supreme Court will rule on the adequacy of public education funding is unknown. It still could happen this calendar year. And, based on the lower court’s ruling and the Legislature’s own studies, there are not enough accounting gimmicks or available loose change to generate hundreds of millions of dollars. Most likely the ruling will be retroactive, which will push the figure over the $1 billion mark.
Lawmakers who either actively sought to starve state government or blindly believed Gov. Sam Brownback’s unfounded optimism have made a mess of things in Topeka. The entire state is suffering because of ill-advised income tax cuts for individuals and businesses that need to be reinstated.
If enough conservative Republicans are removed during the upcoming primary and general elections, we can begin to untangle the mean-spirited shifting of the burden of state government from the rich to the poor.
Make sure you ask any office-seeker to articulate specifics before giving them your vote. Kansas has bled enough from neo-cons conning us into believing the sun is shining.
At least they’ve gone home and can’t damage anything else this year.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry