By State Rep. Blaine Finch, 59th District, Franklin and Osage Counties
Recently you may have heard conversations about schools closing this summer and not reopening this fall. I have heard from many parents and educators who are concerned about this possibility. So what is going on and why are people talking about schools closing?
The Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to make “suitable provision for the educational interests of the state.” As you may recall from civics or government class, in our system of government when there is a dispute about whether something is constitutional that dispute gets taken to court. In 2010 a group of plaintiffs did just that and sued the state. They said the legislature had failed to do its job and had not made suitable provision for the state’s educational interests.
The state lost that case at the lower level and it appealed the case to the state supreme court. That court put the brakes on the district court ruling and said there were two parts to making suitable provision. First adequacy, or is there enough money to properly fund education? And second, equity, are kids in different parts of the state able to have the same type of education even though they may come from areas of different wealth?
The court recently ruled that the block grant funding formula passed by the legislature in the middle of the court case was not equitable. It allowed districts with more property value to raise a lot more money for their schools, while those with less value couldn’t possibly keep up without taxing their people into the poor house. The court kicked it back to the legislature and said to fix this inequity before the end of the state’s fiscal year, June 30. If it didn’t, the state would be without a constitutionally equitable funding formula and the new school year could not start without one.
At this point the legislature could have returned to the old formula (pre block grants) which had already been held to be constitutional, or make a new solution that would be equitable. They chose the second and passed a bill that routed both pots of the state’s equalization dollars through only one of the formulas. Last week the court completed its review and found that the rerouting of those dollars was not equitable. In its decision it again deferred to the legislature and gave it an opportunity to fix the inequity before the end of the current fiscal year.
Now we find ourselves in the first week of June and the regular legislative session has ended. The governor may call the legislature back for a special session to address the equity issue and I call upon him to do so. Ten days after his call the legislature can be assembled and begin using its processes to work toward a consensus solution in the best interests of our children.
There are those who believe the court is out of line and the legislature should ignore their orders. I have made my career as a lawyer, serving clients throughout our area. I can tell you when the courts of this state order my clients to do something, they have two options: follow the order or appeal. Once we reach the court of last resort, the supreme court, there is only one option, follow the order of the court. We are a nation of laws and the law of this nation has been the same for over 200 years. “’It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison (1803). It is time to follow the law.
The legislature can and should pass the legislation needed to address this issue. I stand ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work to keep our school doors open and continue making our state the best possible place for our families.