Kansas has become the epicenter of a new battle over the states’ obligation to adequately fund public education. Even though the state Constitution requires that it make “suitable provision” for financing public education, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature have made draconian cuts in school spending, leading to a lawsuit that now sits before the state Supreme Court.In Kansas, the article notes, the legislature has cut education funding 16.5 percent from the 2008 level. It did this to pay for $1.1 billion in tax cuts that primarily benefitted upper income taxpayers.
The outcome of that decision could resonate nationwide. Forty-five states have had lawsuits challenging the failure of governors and legislators to provide essential resources for a constitutional education.
Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off, and essential services for at-risk students were eliminated, even as the state implemented higher academic standards for college and career readiness.
If the Kansas Supreme Court orders restoration of the funding, legislators are threatening to amend the state’s Constitution by removing the requirement for “suitable” school funding and to strip Kansas courts of jurisdiction to hear school finance cases altogether. And if the amendment fails, they have vowed to defy any court order for increased funding or, at the very least, take the money from higher education.
A court-stripping constitutional amendment, and defiance of a state Supreme Court order, would shred the very fabric of Kansas’ government and send shock waves through state capitals across the nation.