Angry lawmakers, worried superintendents and a sharp-tongued top aide to Gov. Sam Brownback have weighed in over the last 48 hours about the future of public schools in Kansas.
No one yet knows how the biggest crisis in more than a decade in K-12 funding will work out in the next few weeks. But as opinions continue to be shared, here’s what everyone better keep in mind:
The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that lawmakers are not constitutionally financing public schools right now and need to fix that by June 30 or the schools would no longer be able to operate.
(Here’s my recent video analyzing the constitutional crisis facing Kansas.)
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Some good — and not-so-good developments — occurred over the last two days.
▪ Breaking from the ranks of his ultra-conservative GOP colleagues, Rep. Ron Ryckman of Olathe late Friday sent a letter saying, “I’ve come to the conclusion that a special session would not only keep the courts from overreaching and closing our schools, but it would also allow the Legislature to address, perhaps finally and forever, the constitutional crisis that never-ending litigation creates.”
Hooray for Ryckman doing what he did.
But boo on him for being years late to the matter and being part of the Brownback camp in continuing to support income tax cuts that have drained the state of $650 million a year in revenue for public services.
Ryckman also absurdly tried to pin the blame on the court for causing the problem. Wrong. The Legislature had time to do the right thing on school financing and dropped the ball, practically daring the court to call its bluff. And the justices did.
▪ Kim Borchers, deputy chief of staff for Brownback, on Saturday revealed the kinds of delusions that are driving her boss and some other GOP extremists on the education issue.
Borchers hopped onto Facebook to respond to a post by Leavenworth Superintendent Mike Roth, in which he generally bemoaned the situation facing thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students. He pointed out that the Legislature had known since February it needed to solve this problem.
Borchers was not amused.
Taking her words from the Brownback playbook, she blamed the “liberal” Supreme Court for causing the problem.
She tossed out the wrong assertion that this fight was over 1 percent of school funding (or around $40 million), when in reality the court has ruled a $1 billion part of the school funding plan is unconstitutional.
She called the court’s ruling “the bully tactic of threatening to close the schools.” She added, “Thank goodness we have a governor who has had the courage to make government smaller and efficient so education could get this record investment of our tax dollars....”
Alas, that does not sound like it is coming from a governor’s office ready to face reality and call a special session.
▪ Also Saturday, House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka told Brownback in a letter they would try to force him to call a special session.
Their blunt message: “Due to your inaction and the failure of Republican leadership to address the needs of our schools during the regular session, we are invoking Article 5, Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution, which requires the governor to call the legislature into special session upon petition signed by at least two-thirds of the members elected to each house.”
Of course, the Democrats are by far the minority party in Kansas. And, while some moderate Republicans want a special session, too, they don’t have the numbers to call a special session without adding a lot more legislators like Ryckman to their side.
Plus, the letter’s language could cause Brownback to dig in his heels even more. He’s already shown a penchant for not changing his mind even when he’s obviously wrong, as he’s shown on the failed tax cuts for at least the last two years.
▪ Finally, there are lawmakers like GOP state Sen. Greg Smith of Overland Park running around, looking like they want to pick a fight with the Supreme Court and dare them to try to close the schools.
Smith has been particularly obtuse on this manner, showing a big lack of knowledge about how the rule of law works in America and in Kansas.
“They don’t have the authority to close schools,” Smith said late last week. “Their authority ends when they say this is unconstitutional. Anything after that is up to the Legislature.”
And even more laughable: “They have one job, and one job only, and that is to reason and listen to the evidence and make an opinion. And that’s all it is, an opinion. They can’t tell us what to do. They can opine, and that’s the end of their authority.”
Fortunately, it appears Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt disagreed in the last few days, going against the grain of what fellow Republicans are saying.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Rapp told The Wichita Eagle that he “consistently has told other state leaders he will never advise them to violate an order of the Kansas Supreme Court interpreting the state Constitution, and he has not done so.”
Back to Ryckman who, even though he doesn’t like what the Supreme Court justices did, said about the ruling: “I believe they used unsound judgment. I believe it was politically motivated. But they’re the ones in robes and they ruled the law unconstitutional.”
Yes, they did.
Now it’s time for Brownback and the Kansas Legislature to solve the constitutional crisis to keep Kansas’ schools open.