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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Educators await Supreme Court decision

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  • The funding of education in Kansas and a possible change in the Kansas Constitution will probably rest on the shoulders of Kansas Legislators when the 2014 session begins on Jan. 13.
    Prompting that debate is the impending decision from the Kansas Supreme Court concerning the requirement of Article Six in the Kansas Constitution that calls for the State Legislature to fund education equal to the cost amounts of their own studies, said Skyline Superintendent Mike Sanders.
    The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to uphold the finding of the District Court of Shawnee County that the current funding is unconstitutional and violates Article Six of the constitution.
    Oral arguments from both sides in Gannon vs. the State of Kansas were presented to the court and now they are considering a decision.
    Sanders said the lower court finding was a "slam dunk" for schools and expects the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court decision.
    If that happens, the matter will go the Kansas Legislature to workout the education funding issue that will affect every school district and student in the state.
    "We're all waiting on pins and needles for their decision," Sanders said.
    Rep. Marshall Christmann (R-Lyons) said he would not be surprised if the Supreme Court echoed the decision of the lower court. He said the system of checks and balances system with the courts is needed and he was not uncomfortable with the courts checking the laws.
    But now the decision is probably going to give the matter back to the 2014 Legislature and they are probably going to do something the 2013 session did not do.
    They are probably going to vote on legislation that will clear up the language in the constitution, said Rep. Marshall Christmann.
    "There is some ambiguity," Christmann said.
    The bill already exists. It got some attention last session but it didn't have enough support. It never got "above the line" and was never voted on.
    Christmann said he believes it will be discussed and get a vote this session but he still doesn't think the votes are there to get it passed.
    If that happens, the Legislature still has to deal with a very tough issue, said Suzan Patton, superintendent of USD 382.
    "Even if the court rules in our favor, where will the money come from?" Patton questioned.
    Currently the base state aid per pupil in Kansas is $3,838, the same level it was in 2008-2009. It should be $4,492 if it met the constitutional requirements.
    While Sanders is hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court, he is concerned that the Legislature will try to change the constitution without putting the change to a vote as required by law.
    Page 2 of 2 - "The people of Kansas need to be ready for some constitutional monkey business," Sanders said.
    Christmann said it's going to be a hot button topic and it's going to be a long debate that should have started before the legislature goes into session.
    With so many pressure cooker topics, the Legislature needs to give the discussion the time it needs and it needs to be discussed in down time.
    In the past, the Legislature has pulled funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation so it would be hard to do that again.
    Raising taxes is not popular and Christmann would not vote for it but under the circumstances there's not much of a place to pull money so someone is going to have to start talking about raising taxes, Christmann said.
    The governor has invited superintendents and legislators to Cedar Crest, the governor's residence, to start a dialogue on the funding issues.
    Kansans want a quality education but what has to be cut to make it a reality. If teachers are cut it has an economic impact on the community, Patton said.
    Taxes have been cut and monthly revenues are down. It's not a good year to increase tax so the Legislature and the governor will probably not even entertain a tax increase.
    While some districts could easily deal with a property tax increase to raise funds, many others can't afford an increase.
    Patrons want a quality education for their children. It is the duty and obligation of the district to provide an education like other districts but the patrons can't be taxed to death to get it, Patton said.
    The USD 382 has seen enrollment growth and that has helped but that will not always be the case. The school district doesn't want to miss out on all the technical career program initiatives but they can't start them when enrollment is high and then have to stop when it drops.
    "The message from me is caution. We have to be fiscally responsible. We can't predict the future," Patton said.
    Businesses that want to move to Kansas look at the education system and the kind of work force the state provides that brings jobs to Kansas.
    "They want an exemplary workforce," Patton said. "We need quality education."

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