Archive for Thursday, December 18, 2003

Bullock’s ruling in school finance a head-scratcher

December 18, 2003

Having witnessed seemingly slam-dunk legal arguments dissipate in courtrooms, we're inclined to leave the legal pronouncements to lawyers.
Still, we're puzzled by sections of Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock's decision from earlier this week that the state's school finance law was unconstitutional because it was underfunded.
It's troubling that Bullock's preliminary ruling finds the $2.6 billion the state spends on K-through-12 education is $1 billion short. It's not that the finding can't be defended -- Bullock arrived at the number by adding inflation to what a legislative study found the state was shortchanging education. The problem stems from our understanding that constitutionally taxing and spending are the domains of the legislative -- not judicial -- branch. Although it would be within the judicial branch's right to find the formula for myriad constitutional errors (as other sections of the ruling did), to do so for a lack of funding seems an overstep.
It's an easy argument that the Legislature hasn't fulfilled its promise to adjust base per-student aid for school districts to account for inflation in the years since the school finance formula last saw a wholesale reformed in 1992. However, there is a remedy to that broken vow. All adult Kansans are given the opportunity to participate in that correction every two years in that messy process called elections. That all-important, first-and-foremost branch of government should discipline lawmakers on taxing and spending policies.
Bullock's decision was only primary, with his final ruling to come in July -- a move that allows a legislative response. However, the response may be that Bullock's raid on traditional legislative territory may provoke an attitude on the part of some lawmakers to do nothing.

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