Syndicated to Kansas newspapers July 10, 2017.
Martin HawverThere’s a lot of breath-holding going on among legislators over what might happen a week or so after July 18—that’s the day when the Kansas Supreme Court hears arguments on whether the Legislature did or didn’t adequately finance public education in Kansas.
Sometime, probably in August, maybe September, the court is going to rule on whether the state is constitutionally financing education in Kansas public schools.
The group of school districts that is challenging the state’s relatively new school finance formula maintains that the Legislature just isn’t spending enough money to make sure that all students—and especially those who aren’t performing to grade level averages—do better.
The state, defending the Legislature’s new plan, essentially is saying that it took special steps for those under-performing students to see additional funds allocated for their education—and has established a might-be-tough test for districts to make sure they are spending that additional “weighting” money for the under-performing kids.
Lawmakers were of course sharply divided on school finance—the money part—and policy—how to get enough money to school districts to get those students educated to the “Rose standards,” the baseline for determining whether kids from border to border are getting the education they need to be successful.
And, the additional $292 million lawmakers agreed to spend in the upcoming school year in the bill passed this session is either enough if you buy that targeting argument the state makes or not nearly enough because there’s no good prediction of whether it will work.
In the middle, remember, are the schoolchildren’s futures, whether it be jumping into the job market right out of high school or getting additional training or education, so that they can support themselves and their families-to-be, or at least moving out of their parents’ homes.
In two hours of carefully crafted arguments before the Supreme Court on July 18 the basic positions will be nailed down: The schools say the state isn’t spending enough, the state will maintain that it is and has set down rules to make sure the money is spent for the best possible outcome for the students.
Of course, money is tight in the state’s budget, even after a massive income tax increase this session. There’s the possibility that the Legislature didn’t raise taxes enough to constitutionally finance public education, and there’s the possibility that the basic management of public education is flawed.
And…don’t forget, the Supreme Court has in the past threatened not-very-convincingly to close public schools, maintaining that the appropriation for schools is unconstitutional because it doesn’t accomplish the goal of equally educating the state’s children.
While those oral arguments are going on, and everyone is watching the justices to see whether they appear to be buying the arguments from either side of the lawsuit, there’s a much broader issue the justices will be deciding.
With a new legislature set to start in January, an election year for all statewide offices and the Kansas House of Representatives (only the Senate above the fray due to its four-year terms), the decision of the court likely will shape the future of the leadership of the state.
Sure, it’s about the students, which many forget are the future of the state, but it is also about the leadership of the state. There is a possibility that no matter how cannily lawmakers established a program to improve the education of about 25% of the state’s schoolchildren who aren’t doing well, there just isn’t enough money there to work with.
It’s the money, of course, but it’s also about a lot more if those under-performing 25% of Kansas schoolchildren don’t have much of a future.