Kansas Supreme Court plays politics

Washburn Review Staff

Last Friday The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas Legislature’s level of funding for public education had fallen below the constitutionally mandated levels for nearly a decade, the Court was asked to answer two questions: Did the Legislature allocate funds to local school districts equitably? Did the Legislature allocate adequate funds to local school districts?

The Court resoundingly responded ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ respectively. The court sent a message to the Legislature that funding allocations regardless of the size or tax base of the district must be funded according to state education finance law.

The remaining question as to what the level of adequate funding remains a mystery. In the court’s opinion the question of adequate funding was tossed back down to the lower courts to use another legal test to determine adequate funding levels.

The question of ‘what is adequate?’ has been essentially been postponed until after the mid-term elections. The district court will have to rehear the arguments on funding, then the appellate court will have to re-examine the case and finally the Kansas Supreme Court will make the final decision. While to some the Court seems to have punted on the issue for a time, but their ruling highlights the precarious position the Court finds itself in right now.

Had the Court dropped a 500 million dollar education-funding bill on the Legislature a number of very real and very dangerous things could have occurred in our state. Republicans control a vast majority of the House and Senate, many of who were forced to fall in line to the governor’s agenda or risk losing support of their party during the primary season. With Republican’s in firm control of the Legislature and the Governor with a choke hold on the legislature.

Republican threats of constitutional amendments to remove the Kansas Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over civil matters, like the education funding case, and the removal of education funding standards from the constitution has become very real. 

The Supreme Court instead decided to attack the issue of education finance in a way that prevents an immediate showdown and allows the court to see where the political cards lie after the mid-term election. If the legislature had found itself having to fill an almost half-billion dollar budget shortfall two things probably would have happened.

First the Legislature would have introduced a bill that would create a new court responsible for hearing civil cases, which the governor would have the privilege to fill. Secondly the Legislature and Governor would have ignored  the court ruling, an outcome that could still come to fruition.

With the final ruling now set after the mid-term elections and the governor’s race set for November the court has given itself the opportunity to see if a shift towards a more amicable state government will come to power before the second ruling is handed down.