Amendment would block school closure by courts

State Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, introduced a constitutional amendment Monday that would prohibit the courts from closing schools “by limiting, transferring, redirecting or stopping the expenditure of funds appropriated by law, except as provided by law.”  

The limitation would also apply to the executive branch and Kansas State Board of Education. The amendment calls for the issue to be placed on the ballot at a special election on April 17. 

SCR 1609 would also amend the Kansas constitution to state that “The locally elected board of a school district shall be the only government entity that may close a school district or attendance center within such school district, except as provided by law.” 

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage in both the Kansas House and Senate, and approval by a simple majority of voters. 

The proposal is a response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent string of school finance decisions, which have held the Legislature is not meetings its constitutional duty to “provide suitable funding” for education, and has said it will take action if the Legislature fails to address the deficiencies. In October, the court ruled that state had not demonstrated the Legislature’s 2017 response, which added $300 million in school aid over two years, would do enough to address low performing students, and created unacceptable inequities in funding. 

The court gave the Legislature until April to adopt a response, scheduling oral arguments in May and a decision promised by the end of June. 

The Supreme Court has never suggested it would directly “close schools,” but has indicated it could block the operation of an unconstitutional funding system, which presumably could keep the state from distributing funds or school districts from spending those funds. 

KASB’s Delegate Assembly has adopted the following position on the role of the courts: “KASB supports the role of an independent judiciary in enforcing constitutional provisions. We oppose either changing the selection process for judges or limiting the ability of the courts to enforce those provisions, which would weaken the traditional separation of powers in Kansas.” 

More information on school finance issues before the court and legislature is available on KASB’s Key Resources page. 

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