A SECOND OPINION, The Hutchinson News
Someday, maybe, the Kansas Legislature will pay for schools in a way that stops the need to litigate, and the state's highest court will stop finding itself in the unenviable position of settling the dispute.
Once again, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state's formula for financing public education fails to meet the constitutional requirement for equity. The ruling stated that the block grant formula authorized by the previous legislature left poor and minority students at a disadvantage compared to their better-off peers across the state.
The court didn't specify how much money must be infused into the state's public education system, instead leaving that up to lawmakers. Attorneys for the plaintiffs estimate the state will need to produce an additional $800 million to satisfy the court order. Such an amount will only further complicate an already complicated budget that already is lagging by $270 million. The Legislature has until June 30 to act.
Gov. Sam Brownback - whose income tax cuts are viewed as partly to blame for the state's budget shortfall and inadequate funding of education - said that the Legislature has an opportunity to enact "transformative educational reform," including a call for more school choice for parents who would rather send their kids to private, charter or experimental schools.
There will be a time for such discussions, but that time is not now. Little progress or change for the future can be made while there is an immediate, overwhelming need that must be addressed. The Legislature this session must move to satisfy the court's ruling in a way that curbs the continuous litigation that has plagued the state for the better part of the last 20 years.
Once - and only once - that is settled should the state's lawmakers consider changes that would fundamentally alter the way Kansas finances public education. When that time comes, all sides must be willing to recognize that this cycle of litigation has been damaging to students and teachers and work to find a way to end it.
Part of that discussion should center on how to pay for education, and part of the discussion should focus on new methods and innovative ways to provide a high-quality education for all the state's students - regardless of where they live or their family's income. But the talk should center on what's best for Kansas students - the vast majority of whom will always obtain their education from public, rather than private, schools.