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Scary Politics in Kansas… And Equitable Funding for Schools Is at the Root

September 9, 2016

Today’s NYTimes editorial titled “Partisan Winds Aimed at Kansas’ Court” features a picture of an ominous tornado…  a tornado that will not affect the affluent school districts in the state but will surely wreak havoc on the school districts serving children in poverty in rural outposts and urban schools. It seems that the conservatives in the State are upset with recent decisions of the Supreme Court in that state and they now have an opportunity to unseat four of the seven justices and replace them with jurists who will support their austerity agenda. And one of the most contentious issues facing the court is school funding. As noted in earlier blog posts, the Kansas Supreme Court stood up to Governor Brownback and the conservative legislators when they effected devastating cuts to public education. They’ve sowed the wind and now look to reap the whirlwind:

The court ruled that the punishing education spending cuts pushed through by Gov. Sam Brownback in recent years violated the state Constitution’s requirement that adequate and fair funding be provided to all schools, rich and poor. Republican lawmakers argued that the court overstepped its authority in ordering the Legislature to face up to this responsibility…

In the Kansas system, judges are appointed by the governor, but they face what has traditionally been a pro forma retention vote on the ballot after their first year, and every six years thereafter. Across more than half a century, until the past few years, the retention system was nonpolitical, with no judges rejected. But this year is decidedly different. This time Republican officials expect that a flood of out-of-state political money — untraceable under loose campaign laws — will be drawn to the fight.

Four of the five judges who face retention elections in November have been part of court majorities that struck down aspects of Mr. Brownback’s disastrous tax-cutting program, which caused huge budget cuts to public education, state roads and other basic services.

The tax breaks to businesses did not yield the growth that was promised by the supply-side Governor and legislator and now out-of-state businessmen, fearful that Kansas gambit will show voters everywhere that the supply-side dogma is flawed, are coming forth with cash to vote the “liberal” court out of office. The Times editorial board has it right in its concluding paragraph:

Right-wing politicians who adhere to the fantasy that government is the problem, not the solution, are eager to politicize the courts. Kansas voters need to send a message that the independence of the judiciary will be firmly protected from extremist meddling.

Here’s hoping that high-minded voters show up and send the message that the courts are not for sale… and maybe they’ll also send another message by voting the “extremists” who passed these tax cuts out of office.

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