Joco Opinion

Irate over the Kansas school mess? Toss the justices responsible

Check your rage, Johnson Countians. You’re doing it all wrong if you think throwing out conservative legislators will solve all of Kansas’ fiscal woes.

Instead, you should be focusing your ire at Kansas’ kangaroo Supreme Court, of which several members stand for retention this fall. The majority of these justices deserve to be tossed out on their fancy robes and left to haunt the ambulance chasing offices from which they were vaunted to the state’s highest courts.

These black-robed justices are playing politics by holding your children and the public schools hostage. They’ve created a constitutional crisis where one wasn’t necessary. There was no sane reason to threaten closing the schools, and there are serious questions of whether these justices even have that authority. Not to mention how they plan to orchestrate such a thing. It’s laughable. They can’t call in the National Guard. They can’t call out the Kansas Highway Patrol. There are more than 1,400 public schools in Kansas, and seven Kansas Supreme Court justices. I’d like to see them try barring the doors at every school building in the state.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the funding the Kansas Legislature adopted is equitable. The financial difference between equitability is 1 percent, and the simplest, quickest way to fix the supposed inequity is for legislators to take money from Johnson County schools and dole it out to other parts of the state. This may or may not result in money funneled to western Kansas classrooms. More likely, it will result in Wichita homeowners getting a tax break, while Johnson County schools have less in their coffers. I can live with that, but I highly doubt all this is the result the so-called moderates, Democrats, socialists, and the Kansas National Educators Association were seeking with their bizarre contentions that Kansas schools are destitute.

These groups all want more money. There is no dollar amount that will ever satiate them. Kansas funding exploded in 2005. Following a court case, Montoy v. State of Kansas, legislators opened the spending floodgates, increasing public school spending by 10 percent in 2005 and an additional 9 percent in 2006.

The lawyers who tried that case before the Kansas Supreme Court, Alan Robb and John Rube, had discovered a cash cow. In the following years, school funding steadily increased by 3 to 5 percent each year, until the recession. After years of steady funding growth, in 2008, per pupil expenditures decreased by 2.6 percent, and in 2009, expenditures per pupil declined by 1 percent.

Enter again the same lawyer, Rupe, and his cash cow, the Kansas taxpayers, who fund these lawsuits against the state. Despite steady growth from 2011 to the present — school expenditures have increased between 1 and 3 percent annually — it wasn’t enough money. School funding in the 2014-2015 school year increased by 1.27 percent. Rupe and some school district allies sued the state again. Only one Johnson County school district, Gardner Edgerton School District, took part in the lawsuit. And here we are today. A handful of justices selected by secret committee of lawyers is holding Kansas school children hostage to the demands of other wealthy attorneys.

Parents and children are caught in the cross-hairs, and in many cases, they are misplacing the blame. It belongs on the court. The justices could easily have ruled that 1 percent of the funding formula needs to be reworked in a reasonable amount of time.

A month is not a reasonable amount of time, but such are the demands of Kansas’ court. Six of seven justices gave the Kansas Legislature one month or else.

This is mind-boggling. The people of Kansas clearly want to educate their children and educate them well. They want to fund education adequately, despite differences in how that is best accomplished. And that’s the rub. A majority of legislators has to reach an agreement, and that is yeoman’s work. If it’s to be done in a way that isn’t a complete disaster, that requires time and thought. A month isn’t enough time.

The court’s demands are unreasonable. Its ability to enforce its threats is nil. The people, however, have a remedy. Despite Kansas’ baffling and stupid system of appointing justices to the state Supreme Court — a secret committee of lawyers selects three people from whom the governor chooses — the people can throw justices out. Unfortunately, the people are horribly ill-informed, and we’ve never exercised that option.

If you insist on being enraged by what’s happening in our state government, place your anger where it belongs — at the feet of renegade members of the Kansas Supreme Court. Use your privilege and vote them out.

Danedri Herbert writes monthly. Reach her at danedrih@gmail.com. On Twitter: @danedri

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