Kansas leaders claim they think education is an important public service. But as the Kansas Supreme Court has just pointed out, their actions demonstrate the falsity of their claims.
The court ruled that the makeshift funding plan approved earlier this year was unconstitutional because it would not provide equal opportunities for students in wealthy and economically challenged districts. The court is threatening to close K-12 schools if the Legislature does not enact an equitable budget for schools before June 30.
Naturally, Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders are crying foul. They are preparing for a special legislative session to avoid a shutdown of schools.
Some of the more extreme Brownback lawmakers are trying to deny the need for more K-12 education funding. Some are also sputtering about crafting a constitutional amendment they say would keep them in charge and prevent the court from threatening future school shutdowns.
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It is past time for excuses and time for sound solutions. Put sufficient money into schools, ensuring that all students from all districts get equal opportunities.
Brownback caused this mess. To achieve his goal of shrinking government while decreasing taxes for his wealthy supporters, the governor spent time and resources to remove moderate lawmakers who supported sound education funding, among other sensible things. The moderates were replaced by Brownback clones who follow the governor blindly no matter where he leads.
Despite the caterwauling by Brownback and legislative leaders, the court is correct in its assessment of Kansas education funding. And, contrary to claims by Brownback and his legislative followers, the court is not guilty of overreaching. It is instead performing the protective function required by the state Constitution.
This demonstrates why checks and balances are needed in government rather than permitting a fiscally out-of-control chief executive and his herd of feckless followers to do as they please.
If I sound upset, it is with good cause. Education is too important to treat as a resource to rob so the governor’s friends continue to enjoy hefty tax breaks. Supporting education is not just lip service for my wife and me.
I attended a one-room school from first through eighth grade. The school had excellent teachers, and the five of us who started first grade together all graduated from a top-rated high school.
At that high school I met my wife, who became high school valedictorian before obtaining her degree and lifetime teaching certification. She taught in U.S. Department of Defense schools overseas and in Missouri and Kansas.
I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school although my parents, who had not had good opportunities themselves, strongly supported public schools. My wife and I know that education gave us opportunities we otherwise could not have had.
We moved to Kansas for good schools. Our son and daughter-in-law received an exceptional education there in suburban and rural schools.
Kansas has prided itself for decades on providing a good education, but we face the threat of seeing that disappear under the wrong-headed notion of budget efficiency. Funding alone is not the answer to having and keeping good schools, but failing to fund public education properly is a guaranteed way to ensure the state keeps falling behind states it used to surpass easily in multiple ways.
Hollow talk and empty rhetoric won’t pay for good teachers in good classrooms. Brownback likes to insist that all of his budget cuts are about job creation. But if Kansans aren’t educated enough to know that the governor’s phony math doesn’t add up, there won’t be anyone to work at the mythical jobs the governor says he is creating.
Rich Hood is a former editorial page editor of The Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.