June 25, 2016
Kansas Dems at Forefront of Education Finance Solution
Yesterday, the Kansas legislature passed a school finance bill that attorneys say fulfill the equity requirements of the Gannon ruling.
In the evening hours of the second day of special session, the Senate pushed through a final plan that will keep Kansas schools open this fall. While this is certainly something to be celebrated, it begs the question: If a compromise could be reached that quickly, why did the GOP refuse to take any sort of reasonable action beforehand? Conservatives openly and intentionally placed education on the back burner in order to attack the court, and to attempt to remove its power.
Until the session began, Republican members of the legislature decried the Kansas Supreme Court and spoke openly of defiance. A few weeks ago, when Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce was asked about talk of defying the court, he replied, “It’s serious.” Even as session opened, the GOP focused first on a constitutional amendment to strip power from the Kansas Supreme Court, and then on an amendment creating a ‘superior court.’ Conservatives in the legislature have made it absolutely clear that equitably and adequately funding schools has not been their priority.
It is the policies of those conservatives that placed the state and education system in such a predicament. The block grant system they instituted was found inequitable. Rather than working towards a solution, Republican legislators hastily passed another unequitable plan that virtually forced a special session.
Gov. Brownback did not call the special session until Democratic leaders Sen. Anthony Hensley and Rep. Tom Burroughs circulated a petition for the governor to do so. The governor then called that special session just 7 days prior to the court’s deadline.
The situation created by conservatives demanded immediate resolution. “By the time the special session started, the Republican legislators had no choice but to work alongside Democrats to get something done. Even as they continued to point fingers at the Supreme Court, the plan they presented literally cut more money from school districts to fund school districts. That was never going to be found equitable or adequate,” said Kerry Gooch, the Executive Director of the Kansas Democratic Party.
“Yes, we reached a compromise, and our schools will open in August. And we’re very happy about that. But the people of Kansas cannot let slide that this problem was the result of bad policy enacted by the GOP, that the issue should have been solved long before a special session, that the GOP should have been willing to compromise before the situation became so dire. Our party and our members of the legislature were on the right side from the start, wanting and willing to find a real solution,” Gooch continued.
Rep. Tom Burroughs said, “Democrats came out in front on this issue from the very beginning. Our goal all along was to bring people together to find a solution to keep our schools open. We are very pleased with the result of our efforts.”
And yet the GOP continues to display disregard for the constitutional crisis by claiming a “victory” over the courts. There is no victory to be claimed, as the crisis was never the fault of the court, and though it has been averted for the time being, the issue is not yet wholly solved. On the final bill, Burroughs said, “We have solved the equity problem, but there is still work to do to establish a school finance formula that provides adequate funding for our schools.”