Two days of hearings on a constitutional amendment regarding suitable school finance concluded today. I testified in opposition on behalf of KASB. My testimony is below.
Two basic views on the constitution and the role of the courts emerged. Several Legislators expressed the view that the Legislature, not the courts, should determine funding levels, because Legislators are directly accountable to the people in regular elections. Senator Forrest Knox expressed the view that in the American system, the people are king, expressing their views through majority votes in elections. From that perspective, Kansas Courts have overstepped their authority in ordering specific levels of funding, and the constitution should be changed to give the people more control over school funding through their the legislative representatives.
I tried to represent an alternative view. I agreed the people are king, but noted that the people have placed in their constitution a higher standard for funding education. The constitution was adopted by the people, and the people have said they expect their representatives to provide “suitable finance” for the educational interests of the state – a higher standard than the expression of a legislative majority. The current constitutional language allows individuals to challenges whether the Legislature is meeting that standard set by the people.
Committee chairman and Senate Vice President Jeff King noted that the people added the provision regarding suitable funding in 1966, and could vote to amend it once again. That is certainly their right. The question is whether Kansas SHOULD remove a higher standard for educational funding, or whether education funding should continue to be given a special status. That is the real question for the Senate and House, and if two-thirds of each chamber agree, ultimately for the people.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on SCR 1608. We oppose this proposed constitutional amendment because we believe it would weaken our state’s commitment to education as a fundamental right of the people and a fundamental duty of government. That commitment was placed in the constitution by the people of Kansas at the beginning of statehood. It was strengthened when the education article was amended by the people in 1966 to read “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”