Judges Throw Dollars at Kansas Schools
A three-judge panel ruled in early 2013 that Kansas must increase education funding by at least $654 per pupil, or approximately $395 million for the state’s 600,000 students. Although Kansas has been increasing total school funding for years, the court ruled it was not enough.
The court based its ruling in part on the state not increasing taxes on citizens, saying, “It seems completely illogical that the state can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the state’s diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further.”
Critics argue that school funding should be left up to the legislature, as provided for by law. But this is not the first time activist judges have told Kansas legislators they are doing it wrong.
Montoy v. State of Kansas, a lawsuit settled in 2006, allowed the court to exert control over education spending. Although the Kansas Supreme Court based its ruling on admittedly flawed data used in a 2001 Augenblick & Myers cost study, no new study has determined actual cost requirements for schools to operate effectively.
Furthermore, the court has no expertise in education and there is no evidence that increased funding improves education. According to Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI):
Performance on independent national tests has remained unchanged for years, despite billions more in taxpayer aid. Less than half of Kansas’ 4th grade and 8th grade students are ‘Proficient’ in math and only about a third in reading. It costs a lot of money to operate schools but it’s how the money is spent that matters, not how much. In ordering the State to spend $443 million more on the premise that school funding is unconstitutionally low, the court itself violated the Constitution. The Kansas Constitution says that only the Legislature has the power to appropriate.
Critics contend that in order to fix the problem of judicial interference in Kansas, the state constitution must be changed and judge selection methods must change. The court is overstepping, in violation of separation of powers. It is negating the legislature’s constitutional right to fund programs. Kansas must also act to restrain the courts from acting unconstitutionally when politically charged issues are involved.
The Republican governor and Republican majority in the Kansas legislature have tried to stimulate the state’s economy by refraining from increasing income and property taxes on individuals. The Kansas economy needs this stimulus, as indicated by the National Review claim that Kansas faces a $267 million deficit (01-25-13).
All across America, reformers are giving parents and students options. Charter schools, voucher programs, and homeschooling are improving educational outcomes. The old and tired option of throwing more money at education has been debunked. KPI’s Trabert says that in Kansas, “State assessments show that after decades of hard work by dedicated teachers and billions more in aid, only 56% of 11th grade students read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension.”