High court: Fix school finance
Area superintendents couldn't have agreed more with a Kansas Supreme Court opinion handed down Monday that the state is lagging woefully behind in its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools.
"I would say, preliminarily, I'm optimistic it's a move in the right direction," said Jill Hackett, Basehor-Linwood School District superintendent. "Something needs to be done. A decision has to be made that benefits all education. I think it was exactly what education needed -- the support of the Supreme Court."
Ditto for Robert Van Maren, superintendent of the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville School District.
"I'm very pleased," Van Maren said. "I think basically the judges have said the very thing (administrators and educators) have been saying the last four years."
In an opinion issued Monday, the Court said Kansas schools need more money to provide students with a suitable education. While the Court affirmed the findings of last year's ruling from Shawnee County judge Terry Bullock and ordered the Kansas Legislature to fix the problem by April 12, it prescribed no specific remedy for the funding dilemma.
The Supreme Court addressed school funding in an appeal of Bullock's ruling in 2004 and affirmed the judge's contention that public schools were underfunded, a violation of the constitution.
The Court will stay further proceedings to allow the legislature a reasonable time to correct the funding shortfalls. In the meantime, the present school finance formula will remain in effect until the Court orders otherwise.
Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, said he's holding out hope that legislators will dig in Jan. 10 -- the opening day of the legislative session -- and fix the school finance formula. However, based on past legislative sessions and the agendas of some politicos, Cox said he can't discount the possibility that the April deadline will come and go without a solution.
"We could do it, but don't hold your breath that some legislators won't have the guts to do it and you can quote me on that," Cox said. "I think we can get something on the road if there is a willingness to do it.
"I hope prudent people, prudent thinking will pull through and we'll do the right thing," said Cox, whose 39th District includes Basehor, Bonner Springs and parts of western Shawnee. "So far, the legislature has not taken the responsibility to provide money for education. There are some that do not want a tax increase of any kind for education."
Cox, an outspoken critic of the legislature's previous tactics in finding money for education by pilfering from other state revenues, a measure he calls "credit card economics" said he would be in favor of a tax increase for education and believes the public would support one as well.
He said "there's nothing left to steal" from other state departments for education. The legislature has little choice but to initiate some kind of tax increase to raise money for schools and comply with the Court's ruling.
"We simple cannot do that anymore,"' Cox said. "To me that is just violating our responsibilities. We're here to make decisions. As a legislator you have to do what you think is right.
"(Fixing school funding) is not impossible, I don't think, but I wonder sometimes with the mindsets of many of these legislators."