Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle inexplicably has tossed another firecracker into the debate over school finance.
Legislators in both parties are working to fund schools and potentially remove the state Supreme Court from this debate. There appears to be some progress.
That’s why it’s surprising and disappointing that Wagle recently said a federal lawsuit could be an option if the Kansas court closes schools.
“Why couldn’t we take this to the U.S. Supreme Court?” she asked. “Maybe we should take on that confrontation.”
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On Monday, Wagle’s office pushed back against the idea that she wants federal judges to weigh in on the case.
“Sen. Wagle was not encouraging the involvement of the federal government, but simply answering a question on whether or not that is possible,” said spokeswoman Shannon Golden.
Let’s hope Wagle’s office is right because a U.S. Supreme Court case involving Kansas schools is a lousy idea.
First, it isn’t clear how or why the federal court system would play a role in a Kansas school finance lawsuit. The courts don’t take up cases just for fun.
“We are unaware of what issue could possibly be raised in federal court,” said Alan Rupe, one of the lawyers for the school districts that filed this lawsuit.
Second, the U.S. Supreme Court is the last stop in the legal journey, not the first step. It would take years for a lawsuit to reach the high court. In the meantime, Kansas schools would remain underfunded, in violation of the Kansas Constitution.
This has been tried before. In 2010, a group of Johnson County parents sued in federal court in an effort to increase local school funding in Kansas.
“Kansas’ (school) solution might not be the best one,” an appeals court said. “But it is manifestly not the province of a federal court to manufacture from whole cloth a novel set of rights that would upend a carefully crafted and comprehensive state funding scheme.”
It took five years for that case to work its way through the courts. Kansas kids don’t have five more years.
Wagle’s constant attempts to undermine the authority of the Kansas Supreme Court are distractions that are based on a misunderstanding of the rule of law. Kansans should reject them as a waste of time.
Instead, they should encourage lawmakers to find a reasonable compromise on school finance, and soon. Last week, a state Senate committee recommended passage of a bill adding $92.7 million to school foundation aid next year and $89.7 million the year after that.
Those increases likely would satisfy the court, notwithstanding a few recent complaints from some school districts.
Wagle says “unelected men in robes (shouldn’t) decide how much money to spend.” But the Kansas Supreme Court has never told the Legislature or the governor how much money to spend on schools.
The court has said the state must provide “suitable” funding to educate every Kansas child and has suggested ways that might be accomplished. That effort is required under the state’s constitution.
And there’s no small irony in hoping men and women in black robes would overturn other men and women in black robes. No thanks.
There is a way to get unelected men in robes out of the schools, Sen. Wagle. If you and your colleagues do your jobs, the judges will go away.