Upcoming Kansas Supreme Court decision may lead legislature to remove power of state courts to hear school funding challenges

Kansas is possibly the center of the next effort to strip courts of the power to rule on certain cases, in this instance, school financing cases. As an op-ed in the New York Times notes (h/t Gavel Grab) the state’s level of financing of local schools has been challenged and the state’s supreme court is set to rule on the matter later this month (Update 3/7/14: ruling came down on March 7)

In the past when the issue has come up, the Kansas legislature has threatened either to ignore the court’s orders and/or adopt a constitutional amendment stripping the courts of their authority to interpret the state constitutional provision (Article 6, Section 6) that

The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.

Those threats moved closer to reality in 2013 when the Senate adopted SCR 1608,  a constitutional amendment that would amend the clause to read

The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power under article 2 of the constitution of the state of Kansas and as such shall be established solely by the legislature.

Similar language has been advanced since at least 2003 when the first of these particular challenges to state funding of Kansas public schools started winding their way through the courts.

The first type includes eight bills over the last decade that focused on precluding future court decisions in the area by specifying it is the legislature alone that will make the determination as to “suitable provision” levels of funding in the education article (Article 6). SCR 1608 is but the latest example, in 2011 the language (HCR 5010) read

The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state in an amount to be determined by the legislature.

The second type focuses on the judiciary article (Article 2) and removing the courts powers over all appropriations. Eight such bills have been introduced in recent years, all with language similar to HCR 5006 of 2011

The executive and judicial branches shall have no authority to direct the legislative branch to make any appropriation of money or to redirect an appropriation or limit in any fashion an appropriation already made by law, except as the legislative branch may provide by law.

 

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