Courts and the Kansas schools, cont’d

Andrew Ujifusa at Education Week (“Kansas Ruling Fuels Debate on Adequacy of Funding”) quotes me:

But the union’s solution of significantly higher funding for schools isn’t the obvious or correct one to Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute. In a March 10 blog post on the website of the libertarian think tank, Mr. Olson said that Kansas’ finance fight is just one piece of a larger strategy that seeks to “seize control of school funding” through the courts.

In the process, he argued in a subsequent interview, that movement is subverting representative democracy by ignoring what state legislators decide on K-12 funding.

“I see it as a way in which the educational establishment uses litigation to entrench itself against supervision by other branches of government and voters interested in cutting budgets,” Mr. Olson said.

I go on to discuss California’s Serrano v. Priest and its unexpected consequence, voters’ limitation of property taxes through Proposition 13. And this from Ben Wilterdink at American Legislator on the latest ruling:

Kansas has faced this problem before. In 2005 the State Supreme Court ordered Kansas to spend more on education. Kansas lawmakers complied, but now the Court is again ordering more spending. Kansas already spends more than 50 percent of its budget on K-12 education, and if this ruling stands, it will be forced to spend 62 percent of its budget on education. All of this is despite the fact that when measured against regional per-pupil spending, Kansas is funding education quite well.

Earlier here, etc.

Related: Steve Malanga on school finance lawsuits and other “positive-rights” litigation at state supreme courts [City Journal]


  • If I remember my politics correctly, conservatives rule in Kansas.

    So, we see that some schools, maybe mostly in the inner city suck. They may or may not get as much money as schools in richer neighborhoods. More money might not mean better schools.

    But something needs to be done. Where are the conservative ideas for improving the schools? Why have these ideas not been implemented? Why has there been no success.

    Whatever the reasons, the state government is failing in its constitutional obligations (and in conservative principles).

    Might this be an example of conservatives unable to govern?

    Yes, the school board is likely run by liberals. But the state government can likely change that, too.


    The problems with judges who fail is that they are seldom held accountable.

  • Seems odd to me that a teachers’ union would want higher education budgets. I work in facilities at a school, and the general understanding among us employees is that increases in the education budget are spent at the district level on hiring more “compliance personnel” and layers of management, who invariably get in the way. They aren’t unionized, by the way. When the budget is cut, they can be fired, and they are. We’re unionized, so it usually doesn’t affect us. When it does, those who are let go are almost always support staff and local bureaucrats. Teachers are the last ones affected.

    Cut the education budget. Cut it all day. There’s plenty of fat.

  • Allan,

    It just might be erroneous to think that Kansas is at the bottom of the barrel in per student spending on education or that spending even more would solve the problem. (unless, of course, you are in the teacher’s union) Likewise that Kansas is politically a pure conservative state. To wit, where do you the Iron Maiden of Obamacare was a Democratic Governor, where she reportedly stacked the judicial selection committee with democrats.

  • Fiscal conservatives may be correct that judicial determination of school budgets is bad public policy, but they cannot credibly accuse the Kansas court of “activist” usurpation. Specific language in the Kansas constitution invites State courts to take an interest in State education spending.

  • Disagree. The Kansas constitution, like many state constitutions, contains vague and hortatory language about public schooling. Many courts have (correctly in my view) ruled that such vague and hortatory language is not a sweeping grant of authority to the judiciary to decide school funding levels, any more than the language about “provide for the common defense” in the U.S. Constitution would grant courts authority to order military spending raised above what elected lawmakers chose to spend on it.

  • In particular, the Kansas constitution provides: “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

    What is “suitable provision” and what constitutes the “educational interests of the state” are pure policy decisions that should be left to legislatures. I think Walter’s analogy to “provide for the common defense” is apt. It simply cannot be the case that the adoption of such broad language was intended to make federal courts the day-to-day supervisor over military spending, any more than the drafters of the Kansas constitution intended to vest education funding decisions in the state supreme court.

  • Bumper,

    I do not contend that Kansas is at the bottom of the barrel in spending. I do contend that Kansas is not doing what it needs to do to educate its children as provided by the Constitution. Part of that problem may be inadequate funding. The bigger problem is inadequate service. The bottom line is that results are imparitive. If one does not believe that money is the solution, find another one…

    As for Sibelius, she was an anomoly. She never would have been in power, except for her family name. She was not a liberal in the NYC sense. Certainly, she was no conservative, but she was and is much more conservative than many other Democratic politicians. My guess is that her family heritage was populist in the early 20th century sense and that she tried to govern as such.

    Finally, Sibelius left around 2008. Certainly the last six years have been conservative rule in Kansas.

  • Allan,

    There has been massive increases in education spending across the country, but analysis shows little to no improvement in outcomes.

    There is solid evidence that more money is not the solution and proving that does not require having a better idea.

  • Allan,

    Mark Parkinson was governor until Jan 2011. He is a Democrat, although he is apparently a turncoat Republican.

    And while Sibelius may not be NYC liberal enough, she sure was Chicago liberal enough. Two systems well known for educational success.

    Since you seek solutions go find the show that John Stossel did for ABC on school funding and education. While more money is not always the answer, judicial oversight never is…

  • Bumper,

    I did not know that Kansas had a Democratic governor after 2008.

    I am not arguing that money or judicial oversight is the answer. My point is that conservatives do not have a viable answer to the education problems in low income areas. At least they do not have one which they have implemented and has been shown to work. That is not to say that liberals have an answer, either. Whichever faction comes up with something that works will certainly achieve a large victory.

  • Allan, sorry, it took so long to respond, some days the load is heavier than others, but as you asked here’s the short version of my list:

    1. Take politics out of education, in many (most?) states being on the school board is seen as a springboard to the big show, thus their decisions are based on what’s best for the career rather than what’s best for the kids.

    2. Decrease the size of the central administration, never have seen a district that wasn’t top heavy resulting in “rules just for the sake to job preservation.” The same goes for state and federal agencies, too many cooks spoil the broth.

    3. Let school administrators administer their own schools, see 2. Give them the authority to hire and fire. Base their continued employment on student success.

    4. Get rid of zero tolerance, this concept was created based on pre-conceived notions of racially imbalanced punishment. Also get rid of punishment for cocked thumbs and pop tart pistols.

    5. Unions or tenure, one or the other. My call get rid of unions, i.e., the infamous rubber room of NYC. Bad teachers are worse that no teachers at all, and they poison the entire basket.

    6. Not every child wants to or needs to go to college. Teach life skills, teach vocations.

    7. Get special kids out of main stream classes. Harsh, not really, it takes a special teacher to reach special kids. Shouldn’t require further explanation.

    8. Return to real physical education classes. 100% of all children need physical activity, to get hot and sweaty, burn off excess energy, bring clarity of mind, etc. Less than .01% of student athletes will make it to the pros, but everybody needs a healthy body to go with that now (see 1-7) highly educated mind.

    So this is a start, could it ever get instituted, probably not, and not because of liberals vs. conservatives, but for every one of the above items some pansy ass parent would launch a televised spectacle about how “her snowflake” was being thawed by whatever.

    But did public education ever work, apparently quite well during the 40s, 50s and 60s and then the wheels began to fall off the wagon.

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