A constitutional amendment to block the courts from issuing orders for adequate school funding is a power grab by the state administration, said state Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist.
The constitutional amendment passed the Senate on Wednesday with a two-thirds majority, 27-13, and now goes to the Kansas House of Representatives.
The amendment, if passed and signed into law, would ask the voters in 2014 to vote on whether the courts could be allowed to make rulings on school finance. The courts have previously ordered the state to adequately fund the public schools, and a case is currently pending before the Kansas Supreme Court on the issue.
“I voted against it, not because I don’t believe people shouldn’t be able to vote on it, but because I believe that there are three separate branches of government, the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judiciary, and each of the three existing branches of government in Kansas should have a certain autonomy from the others,” Sen. Haley said.
“I don’t believe that one branch should control another branch of the government, otherwise you really don’t have three separate branches. You end up with two, or as Gov. Brownback would like, the executive branch would like to be in control of all three branches.”
The three branches are designed to have equal power to balance government in Kansas.
“I voted against this to preserve what has worked well in Kansas, and that is three separate branches of government,” Haley said. “The resolution is an attempted power grab by the current administration to control all three branches of Kansas state government.”
All eight Democratic senators voted against this amendment, including Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist., and they were joined by five Republicans. With just one more vote, the amendment would not have passed.
Kansas students and parents in a group called Schools for Fair Funding, including some from Kansas City, Kan., and the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools district, went to the courts after budget cuts were made to public schools. An earlier court ruling in 2005 had ordered the state to fund the public schools adequately.
“I voted against it (the constitutional amendment) because I think that no matter what, our courts are there for any citizen of Kansas to use as a recourse when they feel that the laws of our state are not being enforced as they are spoken to in the statutes,” Sen. Pettey said. “That’s what the Gannon case did, that the courts ruled on in December of 2012.”
“The Legislature has not done their job,” Sen. Pettey said. “We have not funded public education, as the Montoy case in 2005 said we were supposed to be doing. And now the recourse has been that citizens concerned about public education in Kansas have had to go back to the courts.”
Sen. Pettey pointed out that quality public education is tied to economic development and job growth, and should be a concern of the state’s leaders.
“I think we have a responsibility to the families and children in the state of Kansas to guarantee that they all receive a quality education, otherwise we are just working against the future of our state,” Sen. Pettey said.
The version of the amendment passed in the Senate says that an election should occur at the August primary in 2014; there was some disagreement among legislators about whether it should be held at the primary or general election.
Currently, there is also some doubt about whether there are enough votes in the House to get a two-thirds majority to pass this constitutional amendment, according to the local legislators.
On Wednesday, a cross-appeal was filed in the school finance case in the Kansas Supreme Court.
The Gannon case involves Schools for Fair Funding, including some students, parents and school districts including the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, who are suing the state for adequate funding of the public schools. The students and parents stated in the lawsuit that the state had failed to meet its constitutional mandate to provide students with a suitable education, consider the cost of providing the education, and distribute the funds equitably.
The cross-appeal was filed by the plaintiffs, who are the parents, students and districts.
The district court ruling on Jan. 11 ordered that funding be restored to $4,492 base aid per pupil, as opposed to the current $3,838.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs are saying that the panel should have ordered the state to make capital outlay equalization payments for past years.
The roll call vote of the Senate on the constitutional amendment, according to the Senate Journal:
Yeas: Abrams, Apple, Arpke, Bowers, Bruce, Denning, Donovan, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Kerschen, King, Knox, LaTurner, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, O'Donnell, Olson, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Pyle, Smith, Tyson, Wagle.
Nays: Emler, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, Longbine, McGinn, Pettey, V. Schmidt, Wolf.