The task facing the Kansas Legislature during meetings that start Thursday is straightforward: Follow the rule of law, obey a state Supreme Court ruling and constitutionally fund public schools to keep them open past June 30.
A competent set of lawmakers could get that job done in a week or so.
But wait, look over there!
Shiny baubles representing other issues have caught the eyes of Republican lawmakers with short attention spans and an ax to grind with the Supreme Court and K-12 school officials.
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Now the special session properly called by Gov. Sam Brownback to finance K-12 schools is in danger of devolving into a battle over other politically inspired issues.
▪ GOP Rep. John Whitmer of Wichita stands ready to unleash a useless and notorious “bathroom” bill during the session if he doesn’t like how the other party is acting in Topeka.
His measure would order transgender students to use school bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. His money quote: “If the Dems start trying to muck us up, then I’ll do the same.”
Whitmer does at least echo the positive words of House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, who has publicly said he wants the special session tightly focused on finding a responsible school funding plan.
But Whitmer is being irresponsible in even bringing up a divisive and discriminatory measure on transgender students.
▪ Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican, and others are threatening to try to rein in the powers of the Supreme Court to do its job.
One idea is to pass a constitutional amendment that could ask voters as soon as this fall to supposedly prevent the court from having the power to close K-12 schools.
This vindictive plan has a few problems.
It would be rushed through and not well thought out. It likely would be an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Finally, lots of lawmakers, including some Republicans, don’t even want to waste time on this diversionary tactic.
The ultra-conservatives who recklessly want to kick four justices off the Supreme Court during retention votes in November are looking for any way to get publicity. This would be a shameful way to do that.
▪ Finally, some GOP lawmakers keep pushing the notion that millions more in public dollars should be taken away from K-12 schools and given to private schools.
One big trouble: Private schools aren’t accountable to elected school boards that hold the purse strings for local education. Plus, private schools are not required to take all kids, such as those with costly special education needs, as public schools are.
Sunflower State lawmakers have carried out their threats to punish educators before. In 2014, they passed a bill to strip thousands of teachers of job protections during bitter debate over school funding proposals.
Kansas needs to keep its schools’ doors open. Lawmakers must focus on that top priority in the special session.