John Heim, the executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, rejects criticisms of Kansas Supreme Court Justices. The Court is taking a bit of fire from lawmakers who say judges overreached in their recent decision ruling school funding inadequate and inequitable. Heim jumps to the Justices’ defense in a blog post.
“As with past rulings, we heard criticism about activist judges, inefficiency and lack of accountability. But let’s remember, the court studied stacks of exhibits, thousands of pages of documents, multiple precedents and hours of testimony to reach its conclusion,” Heim writes.
He lists a trial record of 21,000 pages and more than 3,300 pages of briefs as evidence of the Court’s careful consideration, but Heim completely ignores the long days of legislative hearings, the pages of written testimony, and the input lawmakers sought from education shareholders in crafting the school funding formula the Court rejected.
Where the Court received pages and pages of documentation from attorneys paid by school districts, lawmakers heard hours of testimony from educators as well as taxpayers and community members. Lawmakers’ decisions are based on broader input than that of the Courts’.
Heim writes the Court is the final arbiter of what’s constitutional, but lawmakers are the arbiters of the people’s concerns and wishes. And in the most recent case, the Court ruled on words that aren’t in the Kansas Constitution. It simply reads, “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”
“Adequacy” and “equity” upon which the most recent school funding case rests are not in the document. In previous Court opinions, the Court ruled “suitable” means “adequate” and “equitable.”
Heim writes that the Court noted schools “have been funded appropriately for only three of the past 15 years.” Some lawmakers are simply suggesting that they–and not seven unelected judges–should be the final arbiter of the appropriate dollar amount.
It’s a reasonable concern. School finance litigation in Kansas has been ongoing now for more than 20 years. Perhaps someone should call for a cease fire, but one side has no reason to: They demand more money. The Court agrees. The legislators capitulate, and the fight rages on.