Kansas Supreme Court Threatens to Close K-12 Schools

The Kansas Supreme Court is threatening to shutter schools across the state - unless the legislature shells out another $38 million in K-12 funds. If the legislature fails to appropriate these additional funds, the state high court will put a hold on $4 billion in school funding as of July 1, invariably triggering widespread school closures.

From where does the Kansas Supreme Court derive the power of the purse? It is simply not in the Kansas Constitution. In fact, the Constitution makes clear that spending authority resides with the people's elected representatives - not the state high court.

The court simply has no constitutional power to dictate educational funding levels. Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution plainly states: "The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools, educational institutions and related activities which may be organized and changed in such manner as may be provided by law."

Notice how changes are to be made "by law" - not court actions. Further, Article 1, Section 26 of the Kansas Constitution states: "No money shall be drawn from the treasury except in pursuance of a specific appropriation made by law."

Nowhere in its recent decision did the Kansas Supreme Court provide any justification for why $38 million more funding would provide equity between the rich and poor school districts. For decades, numerous studies have found little to no link between educational funding and student achievement.

Legislators should clearly define "suitable provision for finance of educational interests," as stated in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution. Lawmakers would also do well to set up a committee for the development of K-12 outcome performance measures. Success could then be evaluated in terms of how much students learn, as opposed to how many taxpayer dollars are spent in their name.

If the Kansas Supreme Court justices disagree with current funding levels for K-12 education, they should run for the state legislature. In the meantime, they need to follow the constitution.

Bob Williams is a senior fellow at State Budget Solutions, a project of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform.