With no decision yet from the Kansas Supreme Court on a mammoth school-finance lawsuit, state legislators will begin their annual session amid deep uncertainty over the dominant issue of the year.
Depending on what the court decides, the outcome could be anything from more money for schools to a constitutional showdown over the balance of power between the courts and the Legislature.
Although they use different metaphors, Democrats and Republicans alike say the school ruling, whenever it comes, will influence just about everything that happens under the dome this election year.
Here in Washington, as Dick wrote last week, “The state Supreme Court, in an order released today, faulted lawmakers for failing to make adequate progress on meeting the Court’s school funding mandate.”
As Erik Smith of Washington State Wire writes today,
In the ruling from the Supreme Court, you can detect a thinly-veiled threat that it might dictate further to the Legislature. Originally the court gave lawmakers until the 2017–18 school year to fully fund basic education, and last year the Legislature made a down payment by pumping an additional $1 billion into the K-12 schools. But that wasn’t much of a start, the court complains. . . . The ruling says, “we have no wish to be forced into entering specific funding directives to the state, or, as some high courts have done, holding the Legislature in contempt of court. But it is incumbent on the state to demonstrate, through immediate, concrete action, that it is making real and measurable progress, not simply promises.”
So what is the court going to do? Start writing the state budget? Wonders state Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee. Essentially the court is telling the Legislature it is required to debate tax increases during this year’s session. And Condotta is among a broad swath of statehouse Republicans ready to fight on a different hill—they say the court has no business intervening in the Legislature’s affairs on such a nitty-gritty level in the first place.
For more information on how we pay for education, see our report from a year ago, “Comparative Analysis of School Funding.” Kansas wasn’t one of our reference states, but an appendix includes funding information for all 50 states. The report also looks at how litigation has shaped education funding around the country.