Kansas will have a special legislative session that could keep public schools open for the next year — or turn into a costly farce of political gamesmanship.
Gov. Sam Brownback, under heavy pressure from education officials and concerned Kansans, acted properly Wednesday when he ordered the Legislature to meet starting June 23.
Lawmakers need to find a way to constitutionally finance schools after the Kansas Supreme Court recently said actions could be taken to close districts after June 30 without such a plan.
But will extremist Republicans and Brownback — who have aimed ignorant ire at the court’s members for simply doing their job — really commit to finding a solution that would serve more than 450,000 K-12 students in the state?
Or will the lawmakers cobble together different kinds of poison-pill bills or even a proposed constitutional amendment, all designed to avoid obeying the court’s ruling?
In a capably run state, elected officials would dip into a rainy day account or general fund reserves to make sure they met the No. 1 obligation of a state government.
Unfortunately, under Brownback’s destructive leadership, the Sunflower State has no reserves. The governor’s extremely unfair 2012 tax cuts have created a self-inflicted revenue nightmare, gutting the Kansas budget of $650 million a year and helping to create the schools funding mess.
Kansas also is one of four states in the nation without a rainy day fund.
So taxpayers will have to support a special session — at a cost approaching $43,000 a day — to deal with this problem.
Brownback indicated Wednesday that it would take $38 million of additional funds in the next year to solve the schools crisis. That’s a baby step in the right direction of conceding that K-12 education deserves more money.
However, some Johnson County officials and educators contend it could take almost $50 million to ensure that the main districts serving the county — Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission — don’t lose money to “poorer” districts, which could happen under one funding concept.
This “rob the rich” argument irritates some lawmakers from Johnson County. However, the proper use of state funds ultimately may do just that — send more dollars to less well-off districts, at the expense of those in well-off counties.
In addition, Brownback warned that — because the state is so poor — he likely would have to slice into other public services to free up revenues for the K-12 schools.
Republican lawmakers who have huffed and puffed that the Supreme Court has no authority to tell them how to spend public funds appear just fine with ceding their powers to let him do the dirty work of reducing government’s ability to serve the people of Kansas. One reason: Ultra-con legislators are running for re-election this fall; Brownback isn’t.
Starting next week, a few crucial committees will meet in Topeka to craft possible solutions.
That’s when Kansans will begin to find out whether the Legislature is serious about solving the funding crisis — or willing to risk massive school closings that would make the state the butt of even more national jokes.