Defending Education

Student alone a classroomPart of straddling the line between extremes is staying away from hyperbole. We work to encourage compromise and collaboration, and call out strident calls like "Taxes are theft!" for what they are. That said, we find we cannot emphasize this next point too much: education is under attack in Kansas, and it is time to stand up to defend it, lest we lose an entire generation of children.

This week in Topeka, hearings are underway on a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to give control of education standards to the Legislature. If made law, this would irreparably hurt education in Kansas, and put one more nail in the coffin of the checks and balances that keep our government sound.

That sounds like a lot of hyperbole, right? Let us convince you.

Education on the brink

In 1966, Kansans voted to amend the state's Constitution, to add the now famous Article 6 on education. In it, the people wrote, "The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." Over the past two decades, in lawsuit after lawsuit, the Kansas Courts have maintained that the state has not met the people's will in this regard. A "suitable" education has been defined as one that is "adequate," giving students the knowledge they need to succeed as adults, and "equitable," assuring that every student has the same opportunity to achieve that success, regardless of where they live, what they look like, or how much money their have. (Read a History of School Finance Litigation in Kansas)

This year, as they have done before when the Court has required they fulfill their obligations, Legislative Leadership have decided to bring a Constitutional Amendment to finally end the temerity of the Courts. This time, HCR 5029 would not remove the word "suitable," but instead change the word "make" to "determine." As it would read, that same sentence above would read, "The Legislature shall determine suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." They go on to add several more sentences aggrandizing their effort, making such hay on the Constitution's opening declaration that "all political power is inherent in the people" and clearly outlining just how much the Courts can no longer be involved. "No court, or other tribunal, established by this constitution or otherwise by law shall alter, amend, repeal or otherwise abrogate such power." (Read HCR 5029 yourself)

What would be the results of this subtle change in wording?

Currently, the Legislature is commanded to provide funding for a suitable education. "The Legislature shall make suitable provision..."

Under the proposed change, the Legislature would be allowed to "determine suitable provision," which gives them control over educational standards. Instead of living up to the standards expected by the people of Kansas, the Legislature could lower standards to fit the funds available.

If Kris Kobach becomes Governor, he has already announced that he will immediately return Brownback's tax cuts. If the Legislature doesn't continue the shift started in 2016, they could lower standards in our schools to fit available funds. Fewer teachers, no counselors, cuts to arts and music, the burden of improvements and special programs thrust on local property values.

HCR 5029 would spell the end of education excellence in Kansas. A generation of children would receive an education hardly "suitable" to the world they will find when they graduate, if they graduate (one of the goals supported by current Kansas standards is a 95% graduation rate).

We should also note that the language included, specifically (spitefully?) excluding the Judicial branch of government from any involvement, would shatter the checks and balances that have kept the American system of government robust for over two-hundred years. In addition, the original 1966 amendment also established the State Board of Education, and gave it sole control of education standards, taking education permanently out of the hands of legislators more worried about getting re-elected than studying education theory. This would seem to rip that up, too.

This is a dangerous, small-minded effort.

How did we get here?

At the end of the last Legislative session in 2017, Leadership had again delayed badly in their efforts to underfund education, and pushed through a bill many expected to fail the Court's review. It did, in fact, and the Court gave the Legislature until April 30 to do better.

In the Fall, in a baldfaced attempt to undercut advocates and school districts, the Legislative Leadership commissioned a report on what it would take to fund Kansas education. Previous reports used by the Courts were more than ten years out of date, they argued. For this new report, they chose an investigator whose previous education report for the State of Texas returned a dollar amount that badly undercut the advice of advocates and experts. Confident of a similar outcome, Leadership paid more than $200,000 for this report.

When the report came back last month, however, the investigator said it would take as much as $2 billion more—annually—to meet Kansas educational standards. Even the plaintiffs in the Kansas court case had only asked for $800 million! Shocked, Leadership was quoted denigrating the report, calling it worthless. A second opinion—also funded by Leadership—was delivered late last week, and unfortunately for them, it called the original report excellent and agreed with the results.

The results are indisputable: it will take about $2 billion more every year to meet Kansas' own, current, education standards.

As a result, Leadership has been reduced to twisting themselves into pretzels with arguments like, "It is unfair for other important areas of state obligations like infrastructure to suffer because education has special treatment." This is rich from a group that spent the last six years crashing the state's infrastructure, pensions, and health care because "taxes are theft!"

But their backers in the Kansas Chamber and the Koch organization won't let them rest. So now we have this amendment, concocted by anonymous members of a hastily organized group called the "Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding" run by lobbyists who decline to outline the membership of this "coalition."

Where do we stand?

MainStream has made no bones about our opposition to a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to ignore their obligations to Kansas schoolchildren. We will not support elected officials who vote for it or something similar. (Read our statement here)

The Legislature is up against the April 30 deadline from the Courts. They have ignored deadlines set by their own Attorney General, and are supposed to end their session this Friday, April 6. There is a bill adding $500 million to school finance making its way through the chambers. It is unclear if the Courts will find that amount acceptable, especially in light of the new report helpfully commissioned by Leadership.

Meanwhile, on the other side, standing up to defend education, we have education advocates, parent organizations, education experts, countless local economic chambers, business leaders, teachers, and increasingly (see: March for Our Lives) students.

We could not be more proud to be part of this very real coalition of Kansans who care about their children, their state, and each other.

Want to tell your legislators how you feel? Find them at and let them know!

Thank you for all that you do. Change begins with you.

It starts here. Do more than vote.

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