- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

It takes $853 million to make Kansas public-school funding “adequate,” the Kansas Supreme Court ruled last week. The court ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to double the money for schools by July 1, and possibly quadruple it by next year. The move should concern anyone who thought the power of the purse belonged to lawmakers. Kansas’ is a case where education “experts” and judges are telling legislators and the voters who elect them that no, they can’t spend their tax dollars as they determine through democratic processes.

In January, the Kansas Supreme Court determined that the legislature had failed to adequately fund public schools. The court further reasoned that Kansas “failed to provide suitable finance for students in middle-sized and large districts with a high proportion of minority and/or at-risk and special-education students,” and ordered the legislature to remedy the situation. Last week’s ruling puts a dollar figure on the remedy. The state education association, of course, is “encouraged” and thinks this “will help get the state on the road to full funding.” That’s hardly surprising in a ruling that reads like an activist’s brief. “We cannot continue to ask current Kansas students to ‘be patient,’ ” it states. “The time for their education is now.”

The Kansas legislature is partly responsible for this situation: It commissioned the study by a private consulting firm in the first place, causing the $853 million figure to emerge in the state’s education debate. It then failed to contest the study’s findings and proceeded to raise education spending by an amount satisfactory to voters but well short of $853 million. That invited an activist court to step in.

The decision follows a similar one in Ohio a few years back which some conservatives labeled a “Robin Hood” ruling for ordering the state assembly and governor to raise taxes and spend the money on property-poor school districts.

Lawmakers are scrambling to meet the requirement by July 1, and to judge by the initial media coverage, Democrats and Republicans are unhappy about it. “It puts us in uncharted waters,” Senate President Steve Morris, a Republican, told the Lawrence Journal-World last week. A Republican colleague, Roger Pine, told the same paper that he was disappointed: “I had hoped that what we passed, while it wasn’t perfect, would have been judged to be a good step.” The creators of judicial review could not have predicted such groveling before judicial masters.

Add to all this the dubious benefits of increasing funding for troubled schools. Kansas could look to D.C. schools, some of the most lavishly funded in the country but consistently low in performance, for evidence of that.

Kansas jurists, with the help of the education “experts,” have shoved aside lawmakers and voters because they think they know better how to spend the public dollars. We’re sorry to see it come to that in Kansas.

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