The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 24, 2014

Other Views: Waiting on courts

— With all due respect to Kansas’ Supreme Court justices, they need to wrap up their decision on the pivotal lawsuit over state spending on public schools so the Legislature can get on with business.

Some legislators might opt to ignore the decision anyway, but the issue of public school spending — along with the larger state budget — seems suspended while everyone waits in anticipation of the ruling. The 2014 session of our part-time Legislature has begun, and, typically lasting just three months, the business of government needs to proceed. Public education being a huge chunk of the state budget, most all other fiscal decisions — if not the whole legislative session agenda — are contingent on this ruling.

The decision, we keep being told, is due any day now. This lawsuit is the latest in a long saga pitting school districts against legislators and the governor over how much money is sufficient to fulfill the state’s constitutional guarantee for adequately financing its schools.

The last round of litigation concluded in 2006, when the state Supreme Court attempted to put a figure to it based on studies the Legislature had commissioned. The legislative branch complied at that time, though much to the displeasure of some lawmakers who thought the judicial branch was overstepping its authority.

The public school system got a financial boost out of that litigation, but when the economy collapsed a few years later, legislators rolled back spending. Then, when budgets weren’t restored after the economy rebounded enough to pay for deep cuts to income taxes championed by Gov. Sam Brownback, school districts went back to the courts.

The state’s basic aid to schools per pupil for the 2015 fiscal year is $3,852, down from a peak of $4,433.

And so now we wait.

The current lawsuit was filed more than three years ago. It worked its way through a lower court first, and the state Supreme Court heard arguments back in October.

Of course, the courts often seemingly work at a snail’s pace, and maybe this delay is one way for the courts to prove a point about their own budget cuts at the hand of legislators. But time is of the essence in this case.

— The Hutchinson News

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