The constitutional dispute over what is and isn’t a “suitable” education in Kansas continued last week at the state Supreme Court.
Lawyers for several school districts told the judges an additional $488 million for schools during the next two years won’t be enough.
Instead, the lawyers suggested, an additional $900 million would do the trick. Others have argued for $600 million more.
Kansans strongly support their public schools. Years of underfunding and unfair income tax reductions have hurt a generation of students.
Yet it may be time for the state and the judges to pause for a year or two to see if the $488 million infusion, coupled with a new formula for disbursing the money, will work.
We don’t say this lightly.
The state Supreme Court plays an essential role in determining what is and isn’t a constitutional education in Kansas. If the Legislature and the governor agreed to spend, say, $20 on the state’s schools, the court would clearly need to step in.
At the same time, the judges must be keenly aware that taxpayers’ ability to pay for education has a limit. They must find the sweet spot — somewhere between $20 and $20 billion — in order to meet their own responsibilities.
To find that balance, the judges consider evidence. Kansans should be confident the court has reached past decisions on that basis.
But lawmakers listen to evidence, too. They consult with experts. They listen to arguments for and against additional school spending.
Unlike judges, though, legislators must consider school spending in the context of other state needs and the demand on taxpayers.
This year, legislators approved a two-year tax hike of $1.2 billion. Telling them to consider another increase would be an extraordinarily aggressive decision.
We hope the judges won’t take that step. School districts, even those with poorer students, need certainty in their budgets.
Let’s see how the new formula and spending work out. Then, Kansans can be heard at the ballot box in 2018. We’re confident voters will make a choice as wise as the state’s highest court.