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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What's wrong with Kansas? And could it happen to Arkansas schools?

Posted by on Wed, Jan 8, 2014 at 7:02 AM

Speaking of schools:

I viewed with alarm the other day a social media post by an extremist Republican legislator who was propagating a right-wing talking point that education was doing fine in Kansas despite enormous cuts by Gov. Sam Brownback.

I sent him a few links that illustrated how he misunderstands school spending under Brownback. He didn't acknowledge my tutorial, as is his custom.

There's more on the subject today in an op-ed in the New York Times. It's important, because a court test is underway in Kansas over that state's constitutional provision of "suitable" free public education. It is just such a constitutional provision in Arkansas for adequate and equal public education that laid the groundwork for the Lakeview ruling that has, to date, made it impossible for the legislature to decrease support for Arkansas public schools.

Kansas matters.

Kansas has become the epicenter of a new battle over the states’ obligation to adequately fund public education. Even though the state Constitution requires that it make “suitable provision” for financing public education, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature have made draconian cuts in school spending, leading to a lawsuit that now sits before the state Supreme Court.

The outcome of that decision could resonate nationwide. Forty-five states have had lawsuits challenging the failure of governors and legislators to provide essential resources for a constitutional education. 

In Kansas, the article notes, the legislature has cut education funding 16.5 percent from the 2008 level. It did this to pay for $1.1 billion in tax cuts that primarily benefitted upper income taxpayers.

Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off, and essential services for at-risk students were eliminated, even as the state implemented higher academic standards for college and career readiness.

So far, courts have sided with those who sued over the cuts and ordered a return to per pupil expenditures previously deemed suitable. But Brownback has taken the case to the Kansas Supreme Court. And it won't end there if kids win.

If the Kansas Supreme Court orders restoration of the funding, legislators are threatening to amend the state’s Constitution by removing the requirement for “suitable” school funding and to strip Kansas courts of jurisdiction to hear school finance cases altogether. And if the amendment fails, they have vowed to defy any court order for increased funding or, at the very least, take the money from higher education.

A court-stripping constitutional amendment, and defiance of a state Supreme Court order, would shred the very fabric of Kansas’ government and send shock waves through state capitals across the nation. 

Could this rejection of Constitution and courts be replicated in Arkansas? The results of legislative elections in 2014 could very well help answer that question. Insurgents aplenty are sitting in those legislative chambers now.

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