Addressing confusion around school finance issue
There’s a great deal of confusion regarding the on-going Supreme Court and school finance issue. The complexity and longevity of the issue is only exasperated by the different sides of the argument: the Kansas Supreme Court, the schools, and the legislative body. It’s my hope, through a series of special features, I can provide some context and up-to-date background that will help bring light to the on-going controversy, or perhaps, cause each of us to ask more questions.
Let’s get started. First, let me be clear: I love our schools. I support our schools. I support our teachers – I was a teacher. I believe our schools should be well funded. And after years of closely studying this subject, I now know they are well funded! Some will argue it’s not enough. But, those arguments cannot negate the millions of additional dollars invested by Kansas taxpayers for hundreds of bond issues financing brand new schools and athletic fields/spaces complete with all the latest technology that have occurred all across our State. Kansas places education as its number one funding priority!
The question ‘how much is enough?’ remains the Legislature’s focus every time we approve a State budget. The elected body of the Legislature decides how much money is allocated for each vital and important Kansas taxpayer-funded agency – from our foster care system and schools to our mental health institutions to our State highways. The 77th District elected me to make that determination of ‘how much is enough.’ The Kansas Supreme Court is now preempting your vote by demanding the Legislature appropriate taxpayer dollars at levels they decide based on rules written and re-written by seven supreme court justices. The Kansas Constitution clearly give the power of appropriation to the Legislature NOT to the Supreme Court.
Let’s break this down:
The Gannon v. State of Kansas is the name of the court case that school districts use to sue you, the Kansas taxpayer, the past 9 years.
The Kansas Constitution (Article 6, Section 6) states that the Legislature shall ‘make suitable provision for finance of educational interests of the State.’ The Constitutional wording ‘suitable provision’ in question was first added to our Constitution in 1966.
Now we get to the gritty details, and vocabulary lesson, that only a lawyer could love (and profit from). Here is the key word in question: SUITABLE. The word ‘suitable’ has been defined by the Supreme Court to mean both ‘equitable and adequate.’ The definition and measurement for reaching what is ‘equitable and adequate’ has changed for the past decade. In essence, the Legislature has been given an impossible task in which the goalpost of ‘equitable and adequacy’ continually move with each ruling.
53 years since the word ‘suitable’ was added to our State Constitution, we find ourselves in litigation brought on by self-serving lawyers who have taken more than $6 million from Kansas taxpayers to line their own pockets.
This is just the beginning of the school finance story. There’s much more. So, stay tuned for next week’s edition for, as Paul Harvey would say, ‘the rest of the story.’
As always, it’s my privilege to serve you in Topeka. Stay in touch and please don’t hesitate to share your questions and concerns.
Rep. Kristey Williams