The latest push to curtail school spending in Kansas is as predictable as the hot wind blowing across the prairie these days.
Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers weren't spending enough on public schools. In some quarters of the Legislature, the ruling had been widely anticipated.
So was the response to the ruling. Within hours, conservative lawmakers were starting to beat the drum — again — for a constitutional amendment that would ensure that such an order from the court could never happen again.
"It appears that a constitutional amendment is the only way to give control back to the people," House
Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said in a statement.
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That's right. These legislators want to upend the historic doctrine of the separation of powers. They'd do it by enshrining into the state constitution a prohibition barring the courts from reviewing the school spending approved by the Legislature. The funding of schools, according to one proposed amendment last session, would be "exclusively a legislative power."
So whatever the Legislature comes up with for the biggest single appropriation in the state budget would stand, no questions asked.
The arrogance of such a proposal is a wonder to behold. You can only surmise that within a year or two of such an idea passing that lawmakers would be back with an amendment demanding exclusive control over social service spending or prisons. Why stop at schools?
All this makes as much sense as an amendment declaring that the governor, and the governor alone, could determine highway spending.
It's ludicrous on its face. And, hey, while they're at it, the Legislature might consider a law halting public school teachers from grading the assignments given to their students. Let's put that in the hands of parents who pay for education through the taxes they pay. Parents are the only ones who can judge their kids' progress, right?
Of course not.
Logic, though, means little in this highly emotional debate. Lawmakers and the courts have been at loggerheads for years over school spending, and the state Supreme Court ruling just assured that the current case would linger another year.
That's unacceptable, conservatives say. They believe that the Kansas Supreme Court has way overstepped its authority. In the process, it's made life miserable for lawmakers by repeatedly insisting that they spend more on public education in accordance with the constitution, which stipulates that lawmakers "shall make suitable provision" for the funding of schools.
Thank goodness they have. If not for the courts, the schools would be even deeper in the hole these days as Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers opted to cut taxes rather than invest in education. Those decisions spurred additional legal action and contributed to the court's frustrations.
The good news? Passage of a constitutional amendment remains unlikely. Two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the House and Senate must approve the plan. From there, it would go to a vote of the people, who could pass it with the support of a simple majority.
Still, several Republican candidates for governor continue to back the idea and an organization, the Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding, is pushing it.
Voters should nip this one in the bud before it gains momentum by demanding answers on where House candidates stand on the question this year. This train should never leave the station.