Kansas Legislature Ordered by Court to Spend More on Schools
Last Friday, the highest court of Kansas ordered the local government to find adequate funding for education—following an investigation on a discrepancy in the (educational) funds of the local government, the highest court ruled against the Kansas legislative sector saying that they violated the Constitution by misappropriating government funds.
The State Supreme Court ruling took over after a bloody budget battle ensued between the state’s lower court and legislation. The lower court had sentenced legislators to looking for $400 million to add to education funds. The Kansas local government, which is led mostly by republican conservatives, opposed this ruling saying that this ruling was out of the judge’s jurisdiction. The legislators insisted that it was lawmakers and not judges, who were allowed to talk about the state’s budget.
The unanimous decision of the State Supreme Court has left the Kansas legislators extremely agitated: although the amount of money ordered by the highest court is by no means close to $400 million mark, it still requires them to appropriate tens of millions of dollars for lower-income schools. In particular, they have to pay some of the lower schools the budget that is owed to them—the legislators have been skipping out on these constitution-mandated payments for the past few years. This has to be completed by July 1 as mandated by the highest court.
This issue of increasing the budget for state schools—in particular, raising the base aid given per student—is extremely political because lawmakers, then lead by republican Governor SamBrownback, refused to increase school funding the same year that they passed the biggest tax cuts. This move questions not just the misappropriation of funds but also the use of the extra taxation.
State Representative Kasha Kelley, chairwoman of the House on Education committee (and also a republican) defends legislators, saying that funding is a problem of the legislation—not the court. She says that the court should never have been involved in the issue in the first place as it does not concern them.
The court rejected this contention, saying that issues like this become their business when the misappropriation is in violation of the Constitution. While they agree that it is legislation’s job to appropriate money, when they fail it is the court’s duty to keep them in line. The final decision of the court in the case Gannon vs. Kansas came with the court’s statement that letting something like this slide would be in violation not just of the Constitution but also of the court’s duties to the people of Kansas.
While the highest court ultimately ruled against the legislators, they did address the issue of the lower court ordering an increase of $4492 per student’s base aid, saying that the lower court hadn’t properly assessed the budget and what would constitute “adequate funding”. Their ruling is similar to the lower court’s, except that they also mandate that studies and further investigation be done before an fixed amount for the raise in base aid per student is ordered. They passed this order down to the lower court, which will soon be declaring a new sentence as per the amount of money the state needs to raise for an increase in the student aid base rate.
Mr. Brownback cites this as a point against the court—he says that the court should not be overly concerned with money, as there are other indicators of the education system’s success. He says that it is useless to spend in excess when state schools are already doing well: he insists that the court also review the lower-income schools’ academic performance.
John S. Robb, the lawyer representing the schools which sued the state says that this argument is more than flawed: yes, performance matters but it takes resources to get results. He further states that the fact that the legislators are being sued by the schools is in itself an indicator that something isn’t right. Mr. Robb says that he is confident that in the coming trials, the lower courts will rule in their favor. The current budget for schools is $120 million. As the highest court has demanded an increase, he is glad that the state will be eligible to pay no amount less that the hundred-twenty million.