Don’t let the courts close schools

Dave TrabertEducation

The rhetoric must stop.  Now.  Nothing is accomplished by the Supreme Court threatening to close schools because a tiny piece of funding isn’t allocated as the Court prefers, or by legislators vowing to stand firm against judicial bullying.  In the meanwhile, almost a half million students are threatened with loss of their constitutional right to education and 70,000 school employees could lose their paychecks.

Aside from the Supreme Court’s very thoughtful, student-focused March 2014 decision, the Court has otherwise directed a political soap opera.  The lower court panel even defied the Supreme Court on more than one occasion.  The Legislature retaliated by attempting to interfere with court operations.  The Legislature also attempted to change how Supreme Court judges are nominated but we don’t see that as retaliation so much as preventing a panel controlled by unelected lawyers from directing the nominating process.  No other state allows unelected lawyers to control the nominating process and neither should Kansas.

The courts have been the bigger bully but it’s time for the Governor and legislators to be the bigger ‘person’.  Daring the courts to close schools may feel justified, but leaders take actions that put their constituents and students first.  Not to concede; we believe the Legislature has made multiple good faith efforts to resolve this equity issue, but to ensure that students’ constitutional right to education is not interrupted.

Here’s the action we recommend:

  1. Governor Brownback should immediately call a Special Session.
  1. Put a funding mechanism in place to ensure that school districts are paid on time. If the Department of Education won’t send the money, route it through the Department of Administration.
  1. Indemnify state and school employees from contempt of court or other related charges.
  1. If any school districts choose not to open their doors, provide every student in those districts with state-directed vouchers to attend any public or private school of their choice.
  1. Make one last attempt to reallocate the same or similar amount of equity funding, even if that means taking money away from districts and giving it others as the Court suggested. The votes may not be there without the hold harmless provision the Court rejected, but that would show good faith and prove the Court wrong about the necessity of hold harmless.

Contrary to many false claims, this isn’t a matter of spending more money to resolve equity – even the Supreme Court says equity can be met by reallocating the same amount of money.  And it’s not because the Supreme Court says schools aren’t adequately funded; they oddly haven’t even scheduled oral arguments on that larger issue.

This is just about politics. We call on the Governor and legislators to be the adults in the room and ensure that students aren’t deprived of their constitutional rights to education.

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