Voters now asked to solve impasse in education funding
After the close of the 2004 Kansas legislative session, it could be said in regards to K-12 education that the Legislature didn't do anything, the courts did too much, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is mostly irrelevant.
In reality, it couldn't truthfully be said the Legislature didn't do anything. It's just that all its activity amounts to nothing. The House approved education spending measures calling for tax increases that met with a quick demise in the Senate. The Senate passed two bills that would have increased education spending with the same kinds of creative borrowing that has been used since the state got into a financial crisis with the recession. The House was unwilling to continue the juggling act of recent years.
Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock provided book ends to the legislative session with a preliminary finding in December that the state education school funding formula was unconstitutional and with a ruling released three days after the session with the same conclusion. That second ruling was augmented with an order -- already appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court -- that the state quit using the formula as of July. Although many education advocates would echo Bullock's finding that education is $1 billion under-funded, few are likely to find an order acceptable that would close down school districts in a month and a half.
Finally, Sebelius proposed an education plan that would have increased education spending by $304 million through a variety of tax increases. The Legislature largely ignored the plan -- other than running with her suggestion to debt-finance the remaining years of the comprehensive transportation plan.
The timing of Bullock's decision and the legislative impasse puts the call to action squarely where it should be. Kansans will go to the polls in a little more than two months to select party nominees to House and Senate seats. Education funding should be the central issue in those campaigns and the ones that follow in November.
Both sides in the legislative debate say real solutions to the impasse are needed. Those taking the point of view that prevailed in the Senate insist the real issue is out-of-control spending. The House view is that the state isn't collecting revenue (taxes) to meet its obligations.
Voters will likely decide which point of view will prevail in Topeka.