Court authority for school funding has rural roots


A proposal to amend the constitution is gaining traction, and a resolution passed out of the Kansas Senate attempts to clarify that funding of public education should be solely the responsibility of the Legislature.

A few days ago I came across some interesting background on this issue. Article 6b of the constitution says, “The Legis­lature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” This language was amended into the constitution in 1966.

The really interesting thing is what else was going on at that time. In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that all state legislative bodies must be apportioned based upon population rather than geography or any other means.

This doctrine of equal representation, or “one person, one vote,” meant the Kansas House of Representatives could no longer be apportioned one representative per county with a few extra allocated to the larger cities in the state.

1966 was the last year the Kansas House was apportioned under the old system, and it seems very likely that the members of that predominantly rural Legislature understood that “one person, one vote” would forever change the character of the Kansas House. They no doubt understood that future legislatures would become increasingly urbanized. And that raised the prospect that at some point an urban-oriented legislature might adopt a school-funding formula that would disadvantage rural school children relative to their counterparts in the cities of Kansas.

The solution those rural legislators apparently devised was to lock language into the constitution that would ensure suitable funding for the education of all Kansas school children. In my opinion, they met their objective very well.

Though the present school finance formula is not perfect, it has been crafted and refined over a period of decades to balance the needs of diverse student populations throughout the state. But now, thanks to a series of contentious court rulings, some folks want to change the constitutional language and remove the possibility of future court challenges regarding school funding.

The rural legislators of the 1960s recognized that putting that power strictly in the hands of the legislature would be a very bad thing for rural Kansas. I am thankful for their wisdom and leadership of nearly 50 years ago, and I am committed to their objective: equal educational opportunity for all Kansas children.

This peek into the past is verification of the old phrase “those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Problem is, if rural Kansans cannot value the foresight of those who went before, it is quite possible that we will never again be able to restore the constitutional protection of equal educational opportunity.

 

Don Hineman (R-Dighton) represents the 118th District in the Kansas House. He was first elected in 2008. When not in Topeka, Hineman operates a dryland farming operation producing wheat, grain sorghum and corn, as well as a cow-calf enterprise doing business as High Plains Gelbvieh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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