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Kansas Politicos Want To Shortchange Schools Despite the State Constitution

April 1, 2016

Today’s NYTimes features an article that provides an insight into how Kansas’ conservative State government is dealing with its constitution that requires them to provide an adequate public education: it is passing bills that will allow the Governor to appoint like-minded Supreme Court justices and, failing that, launching a campaign to unseat those moderate-to-liberal justices who actually want to see the Constitution interpreted literally.

Some background, that has been covered in previous blog posts, is provided in the article. The conservative who dominate the Kansas government have short-changed the education fund and consequently several groups filed lawsuits seeking the funds needed to meet the “basic level of education” required by the State constitution. The response from the legislature?

Driving the conflict in Kansas is the recent dominance of conservative Republicans led by Mr. Brownback. Many legislators say the courts have overstepped their role by ruling that cuts in school funding violate the state Constitution’s guarantee of a basic level of education.

The legislators are even more concerned about a pending lawsuit before the state Supreme Court that asserts the reduction in state aid from $4400 per pupil to $3800 per pupil violate the same provision of the Constitution. The impact of these budget decisions? “Because of the cuts, some rural districts have disbanded, some schools have closed and, last spring, six districts ended the school year days early to cut costs.

Kansas is not the only conservatively governed state to value tax cuts over the opportunity for all children to learn: as noted in previous blog posts other states have reacted to court challenges based on the Constitution by voting to amend the constitution, by devising new funding formulas but failing to fund them to the level needed to provide the equity desired, or— the most familiar tactic— endlessly delaying action. Indeed, the State where I reside— NH— has done variations of all three of these over the past 20+ years.

In the meantime, all of these conservatively governed states have wholeheartedly embraced the test-and-punish model— in part because it provides them with a means to short change schools by replacing this costly “government schools” with high-tech on-line schools (see PA, MI and OH) and providing parents with vouchers so they can exercise choice to get out of the “failing” public schools… schools that are failing in large measure because they are egregiously underfunded and left to serve only the most troubled and needy children.

But no matter… tax cuts are more important than the pesky Constitution…. and the children raised in poverty presumably deserve their fate…

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