By the time you read this, one act of the Kansas school funding drama that has dragged on for decades may finally be over. Maybe that should be put more strongly. It will be over.
The Kansas Legislature always had only one realistic option on school finance: total capitulation to the state Supreme Court. The Legislature now will present to the court by the imposed deadline of April 30 an acceptable plan that will please the court, and allow schools to open in the fall.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, has been trying in vain to win over enough legislators to pass his pet project, a constitutional amendment. If it had passed by two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters, it would have stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its powers of judicial review over school funding. Thus, the Legislature would have been able to ignore the court order to greatly expand funding.
Denning is a financial wizard, but his masterful math skills sometimes betray him when it comes to the simple arithmetic of counting votes. With every Democrat and almost every moderate Republican in the House of Representatives determined to vote no, and with equal resistance in the state Senate, the amendment was dead on arrival. Yet Denning and his cohort Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, failed to see all along that their chances were absolutely zero in glaring neon lights.
With that bogus issue behind them, legislators finally had to deal with following the rule of law. With a good-faith funding proposal that can pass the Legislature, the Supreme Court will most certainly give its blessing.
Despite all the teeth-gnashing and blustering that went on in the Legislature, since the day the court ruled that school funding had to be greatly enhanced, there never was really any doubt how this would end. The court had earlier ruled that a plan to spend an additional $300 million was not enough. It would be shocking if the court did not agree to accept something like a doubling of that total.
The Kansas Supreme Court from the start held in its hand a royal flush. The Legislature barely held any cards at all, yet it tried to bluff. But the court wielded the hammer of all hammers: the threat of closing schools in the fall if the Legislature did not comply.
Assuredly, if schools did not open, the blame would have fallen on the legislators who failed to adequately fund schools. The Supreme Court justices are held in high esteem, according to every poll. Legislators, in contrast, are held in low regard, according to the same polls. Besides, in America, you don’t dare ignore court orders. Legislators were outgunned whether they liked it or not.
The winners in this done deal are numerous: School children in Kansas win. The supremacy of the court in interpreting the constitution prevails, Moderate Republicans such as state Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway and state Sen. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills succeeded in holding tight a coalition of votes that held up against other plans that fell short. Oh, and let’s not forget the new Republican governor of Kansas, Jeff Colyer. He, too, is a winner.
Colyer inherited a hornet’s nest. If things had gone awry, he would have been skewered. If taxes were increased — which he has said will not happen — it would have been fatal to his campaign. As it is, Colyer has survived the worst of this contentious battle while continuing his bid to keep his seat in November. If he just shows real leadership in holding the line on taxes, he becomes a huge winner.
We hope this is finally farewell to this topic. It has been haunting the community and state for decades. If we can put this behind us, stamp out future lawsuits and get on with other business, the biggest winner will be the great state of Kansas.