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Kansans don’t want Court in school funding E-mail
Opinion
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 10:32

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GUEST COLUMN, James Franko, Kansas Policy Institute



The will of the people is often invoked in legislative proceedings and editorials by way of bolstering a preferred argument. Case in point, public sentiment and the ongoing court battles over school funding.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt recently told a legislative committee that now is the time to ask citizens whether they want the courts in charge of school funding or would prefer amending the Constitution. Thankfully, in this instance, the will of the people is known and squares with Schmidt’s testimony. Nearly 60 percent of voters want the state constitution changed so that courts are not able to set school funding levels; only 20 percent of voters believe the judicial system should be responsible for funding decisions.

These results come from a statewide public opinion survey conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute with a credibility interval, similar to margin of error, of 4.4 percentage points.

Legislators face a political and ethical dilemma when they return to Topeka. They must either represent the will of the people who elected them and firmly reject the Supreme Court’s demand of at least $600 million more in tax increases for school funding. Or, pay the court’s ransom knowing that all that money will not improve student achievement. Large majorities of voters were also opposed to further tax hikes to satisfy court demands.

And if legislators will not approve massive tax hikes, Alan Rupe, one of the lawyers suing on behalf of school districts told The Eagle that public safety, social services, and other important services will have to be cut by at least 18 percent. “It may be that some of those other areas (mentioned) which are terribly important but don’t have constitutional protections may have to suffer.”

The entitlement mentality of Rupe and his clients is stunning.

Kansans amended the Constitution in 1966 to stipulate that the Legislature (not courts) “… shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state….” The courts have since interpreted that short phrase to say they get to decide how much is enough, and while they were at it, they substituted “adequate” and “equitable” for “suitable.” Kansas voters evidently want to clarify their understanding of that short phrase.

Further breaking down the strong support for changing the Constitution, just 21 percent want it changed so the Legislature alone sets funding levels. A plurality of citizens – 38 percent – want a rules-based approach inserted in the constitution that’s not subject to interpretation by legislators or the courts.

Eighty-two percent of voters also want schools to stay open through the continued morass of litigation.

The will of the people is clear – let our voices be heard. Students should not be used as pawns, threats of school closure should be dismissed, and providing for a family is hard enough without more money being taken by activist courts.

For too long, courts and lawyers demand more money while staggering achievement gaps worsen. Kansans are clearly ready for a change and they should be heard.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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