School funding battle resumes

Lawsuit being heard in Topeka

By Walt Braun

We’ll let the judges who are hearing the most recent legal challenge over school funding levels decide whether the Legislature is making “suitable provision” for students’ education. Our sense is that if schools had a winning case the first go-round, when both a Shawnee County District Court judge and the Kansas Supreme Court — unanimously — agreed that schools did, they might well prevail again.

As an Associated Press story this morning noted, whatever ruling the three-judge panel in Shawnee County hands down, the Supreme Court is certain to get reacquainted with the case through an appeal.

At this point, citizens ought to be content that public schools have the authority to challenge the Legislature. Many legislators — certainly the Republican majority whose actions led to the initial lawsuit — don’t think a public entity like a school district ought to second-guess their actions. How dare school officials — from all over the state, no less — challenge legislators!

If legislators objected to the lawsuit, they were downright outraged that the Supreme Court ordered them around after ruling that they violated the Kansas Constitution. Legislators have since sought ways to prevent the Supreme Court from again daring to meddle in legislative matters. They want the justices to be more mindful of the separation of powers.

We’d like the Legislature to be more mindful of the balance of powers. When legislators exceed their authority — when their priorities become as skewed as they did a decade ago that they violated the Kansas Constitution — they need to be called out and reeled in. And they need to make it right. That is why the Supreme Court in the previous case ordered the Legislature to boost funding for public schools by hundreds of millions of dollars. The Supreme Court ensured the educational opportunities for Kansas school children that the state Constitution guarantees only because the Legislature would not, and Kansas students and parents should be grateful.

There are enough smart people of every political stripe in the Kansas Legislature to realize that the way to keep the Supreme Court out of their business isn’t to try to ban its involvement. Working within the parameters of the Constitution would render Supreme Court involvement unnecessary.

We don’t know whether the 53 school districts and 32 students who are plaintiffs in the present case will prevail, or even if they deserve to. But we’re confident they will get a fair hearing. For now, that is what matters.

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