By (Junction City) Daily Union, Jan. 13
With the arrival of the New Year, a ruling in the public school financing case is expected any day from the state Supreme Court.
Though it is not a sure thing, many observers expect the court to uphold a three-judge panel’s decision nearly a year ago that the Kansas Legislature violated the state constitution when it reduced public school funding during the recession.
In doing so, it violated a previous court order from 2005 to put more money into the schools. As it now stands, base funding per student is $3,812, down from a high of $4,438 in the 2008-09 school year.
As we have written before, we believe the Legislature broke its promise when it slashed state funding to public schools, and that they are inadequately financed. It would cost the state an additional $450 million annually to reach the funding level agreed upon in 2005 under the previous court order. That will require either deep cuts elsewhere — and there isn’t much left to cut after years of stripping state government — or restoring some of the income tax cuts pushed through by Gov. Sam Brownback.
We greatly prefer the latter, especially since the state has not seen any indication that these cuts have created jobs or boosted the economy as promised. Primarily what the tax cuts have done is force the Legislature to reduce funding to higher education, keep in place a sales tax increase that was supposed to end, and further shift the burden to local property taxpayers.
Increases in local property taxes are being used as a scare tactic by a conservative think tank that recently conducted a poll related to the school finance lawsuit. One poll question claimed property taxes would automatically increase if the lower court decision was upheld, and asked taxpayers if courts ought have the final say on how much taxpayer money is spent on education. When phrased in that manner, many Kansans said “no.”
Trouble is, that assumption is not necessarily accurate. In fact, many school districts that have raised local rates likely would cut them if state funding were restored to previous levels. That would certainly be the politically astute move to make.
The state funding morass is likely to become a major election issue in next year’s governor’s race, especially if an expected attack on the state judiciary’s independence is launched.
We should know soon which direction the state will go once the court ruling is handed down, right about the time the Legislature begins the 2014 session.
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