Editorials

From A to Z: A primer on the Kansas school funding crisis

The Editorial Board

Will children at Apache Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission School District be going to class this fall?
Will children at Apache Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission School District be going to class this fall? skeyser@kcstar.com

The momentous question of whether Kansas schools will open this fall moves closer to resolution on Tuesday.

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments that day on the Legislature’s latest funding plan for the 2016-17 school year.

Is it valid or not? Here’s an A to Z primer on the issue.

A: Activist judges

That’s what Republicans will call Supreme Court members if they rule against the lawmakers. Wrong. The justices are only doing their job.

B: Brownback, Sam

The governor was one of the main players in creating this huge mess. He helped kill the old school finance formula in 2015.

C: Constitution

The state’s guiding legal document requires that the state “legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” Critics say the new plan doesn’t do that.

D: Democrats

In the Legislature, they are greatly outnumbered by GOP members. But they filed a formal protest against the new funding bill to put their concerns before the court.

E: Equitable

A previous court case requires the state to distribute its money without creating major funding differences between poor and rich districts.

F: Funding gap

Opponents of the 2015 block grants passed by Brownback and the Legislature contend they create an unconstitutional funding gap.

G: Gannon

References to the “Gannon decision” occur often. The case is named after the Gannon family, the first plaintiffs listed in the original lawsuit.

H: Hutchinson

The central Kansas school district was among four that filed a suit after Brownback and the Legislature approved the block grants last year.

I: Impeach

Brownback and some Republican lawmakers have arrogantly tried to intimidate the justices by trying to increase the reasons they can be impeached.

J: Johnson County

Affluent parents have flocked to the county for decades, helping create a strong system of school districts. The funding crisis threatens the county’s future.

K: Kansas City, Kan.

The large, mostly minority district in Wyandotte County is challenging the school block grants as being unfair to poorer districts.

L: Local option budget

Districts, including wealthier ones in Johnson County, have gone to local voters to supplement state funding for years.

M: May 10

The date of the Supreme Court hearing comes after lawmakers ended their 2016 session. But they may have to go back to Topeka if a ruling goes against them.

N: New block grants

The 2015 school funding plan adopted by the Legislature essentially froze funding, which pleased some educators — and angered others.

O: Olathe

The budget of the largest school district in the Kansas City area may be affected by the court’s ruling on the new bill passed by the Legislature in 2016.

P: Per-pupil financing

Brownback rejected this old way of doing things, which based state aid on a complicated formula including the number of children in a district.

Q: Quixote, Don

Both sides of the school funding debate claim opponents are engaged in vain efforts to change things.

R: Reductions

This is a chilling word to educators all around the state. They claim cuts to school hours, even staff, could be coming because of block grants.

S: Shutdown

Even more frightening to Kansans: The Supreme Court says the schools can’t open after June 30 without a constitutional financing plan.

T: Transcripts

In an unusual move, GOP lawmakers used transcriptionists to track the passage of their latest school bill to show the court they had tried to do the right thing.

U: Unable to operate

The Supreme Court used this term in its order earlier this year to say schools would be closed if the state did not adequately finance them.

V: Voters

They will make the ultimate important decisions later this year. Will they re-elect lawmakers who passed the new school bill? Will they retain the Supreme Court justices?

W: Wichita

The state’s largest school district with 50,000 pupils has been a leader in challenging the 2015 block grants.

X: X-factor

It could be anything. A split vote on the Supreme Court. A ruling that orders a brand new financing formula. A constitutional crisis could loom.

Y: Youngsters

This is what all of the costly legal wrangling is supposed to be about: how to best pay to educate the children of Kansas.

Z: Zero

As in the chance the upcoming Kansas Supreme Court decision over equity of funding will end the school crisis.

Another legal battle already is under way over whether the state must spend an extra $550 million a year to adequately fund K-12 schools.

Hold on, Kansans.

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