Childhood lessons still applicable, even for legislators
The Kansas Supreme Court has spoken on school finance in Kansas, and the sound you hear is the cumulative gnashing of legislators' teeth.
"The court has stripped the Legislature of its authority," said Rep. Frank Miller, R-Independence, who is urging lawmakers either to ignore the court's order to add $143 million in state funding for public schools, consider impeaching the justices or otherwise throw a monkey wrench into efforts to meet the court's decree.
House Speaker Doug Mays, who wants to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2006, said, "I think the court is somewhat out of touch with reality. It appears they made up their minds months ago what they wanted to do."
Rep. Kathe Decker, who chairs the House Education Committee: "What group will sue next, the disabled that are on a waiting list to receive medical and home services? Will it be the elderly because the state is not paying their medical cost (sic)? Where does it stop?"
Lawmakers knew full well going into this year's legislative session the court was serious about school funding. In what it called a "brief opinion" issued in January, the court told lawmakers the Legislature wasn't meeting its constitutional mandate to adequately fund public education. Justices gave lawmakers until April 12 to fix the deficiency.
The Legislature's "failure to act in the face of this opinion would require this court to direct action to be taken to carry out that responsibility," the court said at the time.
The Legislature offered up a plan that added $127 million in state funds for its public schools. Many in the education field contended an infusion of up to $1 billion in state tax money was needed to adequately fund the state's public schools.
A report in January said the state needed to spend annually from $5,258 to $13,219 per student to provide an adequate education and meet the requirements of the federal "No Child Left Behind" mandate. Despite those figures, the bill passed by the Legislature brought the base state aid up to a high of $4,222 per pupil.
And so earlier this month the court stepped in - with a heavy hand - and the wailing continues as lawmakers prepare for a special session of the Legislature next week to deal with the court's ruling.
The actions of lawmakers remind us of when we were children and our parents would ask us to do something we didn't necessarily want to do but needed to do. At first, we'd complain loudly and probably ignore them. Then the request would turn into an order: Do this. We could ignore our parents again, but if we did, we'd pay the consequences.
In the current drama being played out in Topeka, the justices are the parents and lawmakers are the children. The justices began with a request; now it's an order. Lawmakers would do well to pay heed to the court, grow up and adhere to their constitutional mandate.