Kansas schools anxiously await Court’s decision

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June 19, 2018 - 11:00 PM

The Kansas Supreme Court has yet to tell the state’s citizens if they are spending enough on their schools.

That’s a potential problem because the same court has said the schools can’t be funded past the end of the month and won’t have money to open. That’s a little more than two weeks from now.

Should Kansans be worried? A little. Courts are always unpredictable, and there’s a slim chance the justices could order the schools to close on schedule. That would be troublesome for districts now and a disaster about seven weeks later when schools are scheduled to open.

Most observers doubt that will happen. They expect the judges to extend the deadline, perhaps as soon as this Friday. Then the court will tell Kansas lawmakers they must provide additional money for schools.

We’ve endorsed that idea. State spending for schools, on a per-pupil basis, cratered under former Gov. Sam Brownback and has yet to fully recover. The Legislature’s injection of another $500 million over five years is a step in the right direction but may not be enough to meet constitutional standards.

At the same time, the judges should realize the tight budgetary calendar now facing school districts and give lawmakers some breathing room.

It would be virtually impossible for legislators to gather for a special session in the few remaining weeks of June to address any funding shortfall. Even if they could meet, rushing to cobble together a funding plan in just a few days would be unwise.

The Legislature could meet in July. That, too, creates problems: House members running for re-election face primary voters on Aug. 7. Most will want to spend July campaigning or meeting with constituents. Moreover, a special session just days before the primary might distort decision-making by incumbents in tough races.

That leaves August, after the primary election. By then, though, schools will be open. School boards and administrators will have reached funding decisions for the next year or will have postponed those choices, leaving districts and schoolchildren unsure of the quality of teaching this year.

The most likely outcome? The state Supreme Court will keep the schools open and perhaps endorse the funding scheme for the current fiscal year. It could then order the 2019 Legislature to fully address the funding shortfall in future years.

That possibility makes voters’ choices supremely important this fall. The new governor and the new Legislature will confront school funding as soon as they gather in Topeka in January. Voters should demand straight answers from candidates: Will you support public schools? How?

They should firmly reject candidates who want to pass the buck by changing the state’s constitution or who actually want to provoke a constitutional crisis.

Conservatives have long complained about the court’s role in school spending decisions. Yet the answer to that problem has long been clear: Fully fund education, and the courts will go away. Cheat children, and the courts will intervene.

Closing Kansas schools on June 30 accomplishes nothing. The Supreme Court should take that option off the table and then order a permanent fix early next year.

— The Kansas City Star

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