Word this week that Kansas state legislature leaders are open to a process to amend the state constitution to clearly define what the “suitable” provision for education finance means found relatively little traction among many officials in northeast Johnson County.
Speaker Ron Ryckman of Olathe and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park were among the Republican leadership who said they were open to the idea of drafting a constitutional amendment on the issue of school funding and putting it before Kansas voters.
“There’s going to be many solutions, but one solution would be: Let the voters reevaluate what suitable means to them and let them take a vote on it,” Denning told the Wichita Eagle.
The idea met with mixed reactions from members of the northeast Johnson County delegation who responded to our invitation to comment on the idea of amending Section 6b of Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, which states that “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” Some felt it was unnecessary while others
Here’s what they had to say:
Rep. Melissa Rooker (Fairway)
Over the years, I have heard many ideas for changing the constitution – some to weaken it, some to clarify it, some to strengthen it. I do not support change that would weaken Article 6, nor do I think that our legal problems stem from the current language of the constitution. The remedy required in Gannon remains straightforward – we need to provide at least as much funding as we were allocating in 2008-09 adjusted for inflation and make 4 minor changes to the language of the formula. Part of healthy legislative process involves holding hearings and allowing public comment in order to weigh the pros and cons of any idea. I support the process, even when I disagree with the policy being discussed because it affords us the chance for greater understanding.
Rep. Cindy Holscher (Lenexa)
I am not open to such an amendment as those who are pushing it are many of the same legislators who have fought the proper funding of our public schools for many years. My concern is there would be no real attempt to “define” the necessary amount; rather, focus would be put on how to minimize the amount of funding and set the floor as low as possible. While the formula itself has many positive aspects, a number of us pushed for a higher amount of funding because it was clear it was too low.
Additionally, the idea many legislators have floated that “we don’t know how to satisfy the court because they did not provide a dollar amount” is not exactly accurate. In 1992, Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) was $3,600. The proposed amount, as set forth in the school finance formula passed this summer, for 2017 is $4006. Of course, a $400 increase over a 25 year period does not keep pace with inflation or changing needs of our students. We also have another clue in regard to defining a suitable amount; in 2008-2009, the court approved a figure of $4433 for BSAPP.
I would contend this issue can be solved. Rather than stalling or trying to find an “out,” it’s time to get the job done. Our children and teachers have been cheated far too long.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton (Overland Park)
I find the language in question to be fairly straightforward: it is my constitutional obligation to appropriate money that will properly fund public education. It is a promise that I have repeatedly made to my constituents, and I will continue to keep it. That said, I am certainly open to constitutional language that would hold legislatures much, much more accountable for funding schools than we currently are. The past several years, the legislature has shirked their constitutional obligation, so stronger language holding us to our oath may well resolve the issue at hand. I would not, however, be in support of language that would weaken the State’s obligation to our citizens to fully educate our students. I will keep you informed of my evaluation of any such proposals as the situation develops, and I am grateful to you for our continued discussions on this, and other legislative matters.
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (Prairie Village)
To me, the framers of the Kansas Constitution gave us good direction by allowing the Legislature the flexibility to address school finance on what they knew would be changing societal, educational and financial conditions. This section of the Kansas Constitution, when placed in the totality of Article 6, also makes it very clear that the Legislature is to provide the policy and funding necessary to ensure the children of Kansas are afforded the opportunity of, access to and continuation of a quality public school education.
The Kansas Constitution is also quite clear on the responsibilities of the three separate but equal branches of Kansas government. The Legislature makes the laws, the Judicial determines if those laws adhere to the Constitution and the Executive manages the implementation of those laws. In our present situation, the Constitution seems to be working the way it should. The Legislature has passed the laws pertaining to school finance and the Judicial has determined they do not meet the standards set forth in the Constitution. Now the process demands that we go back and rework the laws so they will pass Judicial muster.
Unfortunately, we have some ultra-conservative members of the Legislature and the Executive who do not value public education and would like to see our public schools downgraded, underfunded and, in some cases, privatized. They would like to have the Kansas Constitution rewritten to fit their ultra-conservative educational agenda and to take public tax money away from our public schools and redirect those funds to private schools. To keep this attack on our public schools from happening is exactly why our Constitution is written the way it is and I would not want to see it changed. We can effectively deal with school finance, educational policy and the administration of our public schools all under the provisions in the current Kansas Constitution.
I am a strong supporter of our public schools and I am certainly most willing and anxious to examine and implement any funding or policy ideas that will make our public schools more effective, more efficient and more accessible to the varied needs of all the children of Kansas. As legislators that is our constitutional job, our constitutional responsibility to the children of Kansas and our constitutional obligation to the tax payers of Kansas. Our ability to make positive policy and financial changes in our system of public education is clearly outlined in the present Kansas Constitution and, as of now, I have seen nothing that makes me think this needs to change.”
Rep. Jarrod Ousley (Merriam):
I am not open to the idea of a constitutional amendment, and I do not believe a majority of the legislature is either. I prefer to meet our constitutional obligations to provide an education for our students, rather than eliminate those obligations under the law.