- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Many Republican legislators in Kansas are angry with the state Supreme Court’s latest order on education funding, question the justices’ motives and doubt the court will accept any further fixes.

Their views prompted leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature to abandon consideration of passing further education funding changes Wednesday before lawmakers formally adjourned their annual session. And Republican Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t said whether he’ll call a special session, despite the court’s warning that public schools won’t be able to open after June 30 if legislators don’t increase aid to poor districts by then.

But that’s of little concern to some Republicans, who see the court’s move as purely political. House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, issued a post-adjournment statement calling the court “judicial hostage takers.”

Others advocated defying the court: “They’re going to continue dropping little turds like they have at the appropriate times to do everything that they can to try to discredit the Legislature,” said Sen. Jeff Melcher, of Leawood. “Eventually, we’re going to have to stand up to this court.”

Kansas has been in and out of lawsuits over education funding for nearly three decades, and the latest round started with a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kansas, districts, after the Great Recession prompted lawmakers to back off funding promises. The high court ruled in February that the state’s distribution of more than $4 billion a year in aid to its 286 school districts wasn’t fair to poor districts, and declared May 27 that the Legislature’s changes approved in March didn’t fully solve the problems.

The state Department of Education estimates that complying with the latest order would force Kansas to increase its spending between $38 million and $51 million for the next school year. And the justices are still considering whether the state spends enough money overall; a lower court said the annual amount was at least $548 million short.

Further rulings are likely to come amid the ongoing budget problems arising after Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging in an effort to stimulate the economy.

“I’m an optimist and believe calmer heads are going to prevail,” said John Robb, an attorney for the four districts suing the state. “We were in the chest-thumping stage.”

But Republicans’ anger at the court is fueled by a belief that the justices are exceeding their authority in pushing legislators to spend more money or see schools shut down. At least a few conservatives, like Sens. Greg Smith, of Overland Park, and Mitch Holmes, of St. John, question whether the state constitution allows the court to intervene at all.

The constitution says the Legislature must “make suitable provision” for financing the state’s “educational interests,” and the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that language means lawmakers need to finance a suitable education for every child - whether they live in rich or poor areas.

“The court is ruling on things that aren’t there,” Holmes said. “I don’t think anything we do is going to make any difference.”

But Alan Rupe, another attorney representing the four school districts, said if legislators press the issue, they’ll learn that courts have broad discretion in enforcing rulings, “as any deadbeat dad can tell you.”

Asked about his analogy, Rupe said: “What’s the difference? They both say, ‘I’m not going to pay what I owe.’”

Washburn University law professor Jeffrey Jackson questioned why the education funding language, approved in a statewide vote in 1966, would be part of the state constitution “if it didn’t mean something.”

He said courts rule on the constitutionality of legislation “all the time” and said it’s a basic principle of American law that, “if there’s a right, there should be a remedy.” However, Jackson said, it’s not clear whether the Supreme Court can go as far as not allowing schools to open because it hasn’t happened previously.

“We’re basically in uncharted territory when we talk about a remedy,” Jackson said.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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