Tomorrow, June 1st, is "Sine Die" in the Kansas Legislature. In Latin, it means "without a day," and in terms of the Legislature, it indicates the last day of a session, adjourning without a day for a planned return. Usually a formality, and sparsely attended, this year the Legislature will attempt some posturing on transgender bathrooms. Already we have reports that they will not address the biggest issue before the state, constitutional funding of our public schools.
Thus, Sine Die will not, in fact, be the last day.
Last Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court returned a ruling in the matter of the Legislature's "fix" for equity in school finance. Earlier this year, the Court had determined that the current system of school finance, the block grants, was not "equitable." It did not afford every Kansas child the same opportunity to succeed. In fact, they said, the system of allowing wealthier school districts to raise extra capital from property taxes was basically inequitable, especially as the state offered lower "base" funding across the board. A month ago, the Legislature passed a disingenuous bill that retained this extra funding, rebranding it for political purposes as a "hold harmless" provision. On Friday, the Court determined that the fix itself was even worse than the original problem, and declined to call it constitutional. As a result, the current system of school finance is still unconstitutional, and as such, public schools cannot be financed in a constitutional manner starting July 1.
With no constitutional way to pay for them in the new fiscal year, public schools would have to close after June 30.
The Legislature must find a fix before then, as they are constitutionally bound to provide a means of financing public education. Just as the Courts are bound to ensure laws do not violate the Kansas Constitution. The Courts have done their job (though you'll hear otherwise from Brownback and his allies), and now it is time for the Legislature to do theirs.
We cannot stress this enough. The Courts are not closing the schools. Repeat that to anyone who will listen: The Kansas Supreme Court is not closing the schools. Nor are they cutting funds for your neighborhood school. In fact, all they are doing is upholding the will of the people of Kansas, that public schools provide an excellent education for every Kansas child.
The Legislature, in the persons of those lawmakers beholden to Governor Brownback's agenda of starving government, have repeatedly, and in direct violation of the Kansas Constitution, underfunded public schools. Again and again.
The only bastion left for education advocates has been the Kansas Constitution, and thankfully the Courts have agreed.
Now it is time for us to step up. When you hear someone parrot the line that the Courts are closing schools, speak up. It is the Legislature's duty to provide for public education as outlined in the constitution. They have failed to do so.
Now they will have a chance to make it right. A special session will be called before June 30, in which they will wrestle with how to meet the Constitution's requirements. It will take more money, at a time when the State has none. In fact, revenue totals are likely to fall short this month, once again, of estimates, leaving Kansas in the hole once more. Where will the Governor find money this time? Will his allies among legislators let the buck slide to his desk again, as they did a month ago? Will he cut from higher education again? Or perhaps he will gut KPERS a little more? Put off highway bridge repair for another year?
Or will his legislators find a spine, and join the moderate Republicans and Democrats in forging a new path for Kansas, where our eyes are fixed on the future of our children?
In any special session that is held after Sine Die, the Legislature returns for a special reason. They convene to complete one task. This year it is to finance public education in a constitutional manner.
They have one job. We intend to hold them accountable. Won't you help us?