Kansas Court Could Kill the Right to a Decent Public Education

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback answers questions about education funding. Brownback and legislators are waiting for a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on whether the state is spending enough money on its public schools. (AP Photo/John Milburn)

In 2012, tea party-aligned legislators in the reliably red state of Kansas, backed by deep-pocketed outside groups, were able to purge Republicans they viewed as insufficiently devoted to Governor Sam Brownback’s right wing agenda. Since then, Kansas, like North Carolina, has become a test bed for conservative policy-making.

Deep spending cuts to education, health care and other social services were central to that agenda. And this month, the Kansas Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in a lawsuit precipitated by those cuts which could have profound consequences for public education in America.

In The New York Times, David Sciarra of the Education Law Center and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights write about what’s at stake

Kansas, like every state, explicitly guarantees a free public education in its Constitution, affirming America’s founding belief that only an educated citizenry can preserve democracy and safeguard individual liberty and freedom.

And yet in recent years Kansas has become the epicenter of a new battle over the states’ obligation to adequately fund public education. Even though the state Constitution requires that it make “suitable provision” for financing public education, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature have made draconian cuts in school spending, leading to a lawsuit that now sits before the state Supreme Court.

The outcome of that decision could resonate nationwide. Forty-five states have had lawsuits challenging the failure of governors and legislators to provide essential resources for a constitutional education. Litigation is pending against 11 states that allegedly provide inadequate and unfair school funding, including New York, Florida, Texas and California.

Many of these lawsuits successfully forced elected officials to increase school funding overall and to deliver more resources to poor students and those with special needs. If the Kansas Supreme Court rules otherwise, students in those states may begin to see the tide of education cuts return.

Kansas’ current constitutional crisis has its genesis in a series of cuts to school funding that began in 2009. The cuts were accelerated by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.

Overall, the Legislature slashed public education funding to 16.5 percent below the 2008 level, triggering significant program reductions in schools across the state. Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off, and essential services for at-risk students were eliminated, even as the state implemented higher academic standards for college and career readiness.

Read on to see what steps the Kansas legislature may take if the court rules against it.

Budgets are a reflection of priorities, and it’s worth noting that some states are taking a very different approach. This week, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed increasing spending on pre-K education by $22 billion over the state’s 2011-2012 budget.  According to the Los Angeles Times, “schools that serve low-income students and non-native English speakers will receive more money under the formula… Under Brown’s plan, LAUSD would see its per-pupil funding jump from about $7,700 per student per year to $12,750 by the end of the decade.”


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  • http://www.sophiapolis.net/breakthrough/bcs/ Bill Graham

    We will reverse this distrust of education.

  • Anonymous

    Why do so many Republicans seem to want an uneducated electorate?

  • BillW

    Because uneducated people are easier to manipulate.

  • Tom Diehl

    What most folks don’t realize is that after the original 13 states entered the Union, the enabling legislation passed by Congress to grant statehood to each state required that the states provide a free public education as a condition of being admitted to the Union. So supporting public education is a requirement of citizenship.

  • Kathleen King

    I am a fifth generation Kansan, product of its public education, including University and Law School. I am appalled by what has happened to my native State! Coming from a small, working class town in rural Kansas, I received an education that has through the years been the equal, if not better, than that in fancy Eastern schools and even public schools in England. From a State that produced William Allen White, Kansas has reduced itself to slavish adherence to and sponsorship of ignorance, censorship, and retrograde academics. I am ashamed….I was raised Republican, and I am ashamed of that too now in the face of the performance of Sam Brownback, the Tea Party and all who follow what they call “conservatism” and Barry M. Goldwater would deem bigotry.

  • Diana Reichardt

    It is very simple, the Republicans do not want the citizens to become too well educated because they will then lose control of the people. They want to keep them uneducated so the folks will have work hard and be paid less. They want more profit in their pockets. They don’t need people thinking about how things should be, they might actually revolt. Keep people down trodden and poor. That is the way they want it.

  • Melissa

    Because the uneducated will vote republican

  • Anonymous

    Uneducated people are easier to manipulate.

  • Anonymous

    Oh- I did not see your comment before I responded.

  • JJ042804

    You’re right it is and those Judges better remember that.

  • JJ042804

    I do know that the founding Father would never approve of this type of politics, which is severely crippling this Country. People have given their lives for this Country and we can not allow the Politicians and Corporations to destroy it.

  • JJ042804

    The more I look into it the better it gets. :) It’s actually “international Law” and cutting Education would be a Human Rights violation according to International Law. Congress can not change it! Period!

    The right to education is a universal entitlement to education, recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a human right that includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education
    accessible to all, in particular by the progressive introduction of
    free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable
    access to higher education,
    ideally by the progressive introduction of free higher education. The
    right to education also includes a responsibility to provide basic
    education for individuals who have not completed primary education. In
    addition to these access to education provisions, the right to education
    encompasses the obligation to rule out discrimination at all levels of the educational system, to set minimum standards and to improve quality of education.

    International legal basis

    The right to education is a law in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[1][2][3]

    The right to education has been reaffirmed in the 1960 UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,[4] and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[5]

    In Europe, Article 2 of the first Protocol of 20 March 1952 to the European Convention on Human Rights
    states that the right to education is recognized as a human right and
    is understood to establish an entitlement to education. According to the
    International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
    the right to education includes the right to free, compulsory primary
    education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education
    accessible to all in particular by the progressive introduction of free
    secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable
    access to higher education in particular by the progressive introduction
    of free higher education. The right to education also includes a
    responsibility to provide basic education for individuals who have not
    completed primary education. In addition to these access to education
    provisions, the right to education encompasses also the obligation to
    eliminate discrimination at all levels of the educational system, to set
    minimum standards and to improve quality. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has applied this norm for example in the Belgian linguistic case.[4] Article 10 of the European Social Charter guarantees the right to vocational education.[6]

  • Mike Lince

    Kansas used to be known for the quality of its publicly educated students. They consistently tested near the top in math and science out of all the states. It will be interesting to see if the residents of Kansas will allow their state government to gut their enviable school system.

  • Anonymous


    The Federal Law has jurisdiction when the states take money from the feds for the schools. Technically a school district can refuse to take all funding from the federal government, and they won’t have to do NCLB or follow federal mandates..but they all have their hands out begging for money, thus have to actual do things legal.

    Try looking up FAPE. You will see HOW the feds have jurisdiction. The feds absolutely 100% can pull money from the state if the state doesn’t follow the law. Brown vs Board of Education..that would be a prime example of how that works 😉

    One last word of advice, the states cannot make laws that circumvent the federal government. So to think that the feds can’t cut money from the federal government coffers, because the state says so..it’s kinda hilarious.

  • Anonymous

    My parents were Republicans and staunch supporters of public education. My, how the party has changed.

  • Anonymous

    How does one define an adequate public education? If the state funds the purchase of a set of encyclopedia for the state capitol is that adequate? If it is defined by the outcome of our elections one might argue that public education has failed. Perhaps some segments of the public are not educable and the assumption that public education can make any difference is faulty.

  • Sams Freeplay

    “publuc”, “headlune”, “i read”, “woyld”…but the capper is “Im in education…” Nice try troll. On the plus side it did make me laugh.

  • Sams Freeplay

    “some segments of the public are not educable” BOOM!!! You win.

  • David Markham

    While I agree with you, I’m afraid you have too much faith in Kansas voters. Unfortunately, the Sunflower state’s backwardsness far predates Brownback. Remember, the state is also the home Fred Phelps and a state school board which has outlawed the teaching of evolution in the past. Overcoming those kinds of deficiencies and the Koch’s money may be too tall of an order.

  • JJ042804

    I checked out what’s posted about the Constitution, which I mirrored, minus any Amendment that past or current Government may have made. I will look into your suggestion, for I’m not all-knowing after all. ^^ Thanks for the advice.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. There’s a long history there.

  • JJ042804

    So in other words, if Congress cuts the Funding for Public Education so much that it cripples the Education System, then they are in violation of the International Civil Rights act from 1948, 1966, 1979 and 1989. Right or wrong?

  • pat o’brien

    when Chris Christie told a woman at a town meeting that it was none of her business where he sent his kids to school, he was wrong. It is our business that our children have access to proper education. Not everyone can afford to send their kids to private schools, so it is vital that all our children have the same opportunity and that is up to the state. One more signal that we are becoming a two class society.

  • http://www.mcduffee-associates.us Unka_George

    Times have changed. The one-room school house is gone, and it is time
    for the autonomous fiefdoms of the local independent school districts to
    join them in the history books

    The foundational problem is the lack of a objective definition of what an adequate/decent education is, compounded by a lack of prioritization of the interests of the educational stakeholders.

    The lack of an objective, overt, and definitive standard of education, combined with a priority listing of stakeholder interests, results in a continually moving subjective/tacit target, which is impossible to attain.

    These problems are greatly compounded by local independence/intransigence of the school boards. While local school district autonomy may have been good policy at one time, when communities were largely isolated, and funding locally raised, it this era of hyper interconnectedness/mobility and state/federal funding it is increasingly counterproductive.

    As a start, it is suggested the state of Kansas define an “adequate/decent” education as: 12 years of instruction with 1080 hours of instruction per year.

    In order to insure the students are prepared for their duties and responsibilities as citizens, parents, and employees, it will be necessary to mandate, by instructional hours, the topics of instruction for at least 75% of the instructional hours, with 25% to be specified by the local school board in response to the perceived needs of the community.

    In order to maximize the educational benefits and minimize the costs of the mandated classes, it is suggested that the texts be specified state wide (possibly using GPO texts), and that standard lesson plans be supplied, stressing professional delivery of content via DVD to insure standardization and adequacy of instruction.

    Other areas of continual turmoil are teacher contracts and tenure. In order to minimize problems in this area, it is suggested that master/standard teacher contracts, developed by the State Bord of Education, be mandated, along with a minimal set of school policies, including teacher tenure, and stakeholder interests priority, which can be augmented/expanded by the local school boards as may seem necessary.

    More of the same only better is not a solution.

  • Brad

    Well said, sir.

  • Brad

    “Educable” – sweet.

  • Anonymous

    Killing public education is one of the goals of ALEC and the Koch Brothers, and is being carried out by their minions via far right Republicans in various Red States. People need to wake up and smell the coffee before all is lost.

  • KSmorebigotedthanyouthink

    you forgot Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

  • Jack Hammer

    And yet, the Kansas,Legislature is under-funding public education. Do you imagine that will cause your list to grow? The issue isn’t big school vs small school, it’s the anti-government Tea Party morons who want to get government out of the way so the large corporations can squeeze the life out of the middle class.

  • pat o’brien

    so, only the well off among our society that can afford to send their children to private schools will have the benefit of a good education. Nice going republicans. Your plan is working to make us a two class society.

  • pat o’brien

    but that was then, and this is now…a much different Kansas.

  • Anonymous

    You are completely missing the point. They are going to erode the very education system that produced these people. Why would you be in favor of that?

  • JJ042804

    The US is punishing other Country’s if they violate Human rights, but I think it’s up to us to do it on Home Turf. The World is watching the US.

  • JJ042804

    These are “Schools” which we are talking about, not Businesses. And “Stakeholders”??? This is not Wall street. You can’t run a School for profit. If you minimize cost, you minimize Education.

  • lostinbago

    And all those people were in a well funded education system

  • JJ042804

    If Republicans and Corporation want us uneducated, then I would say they are running a little behind in that goal, possibly by a couple thousand years or so, don’t you think?

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely a crime ( abuse and neglect) against children just to make money for the rich. I hope it backfires before it is too late. Before we become a part of the third world. Like the third estate, wrote Sauvy, the third world is nothing, and it “wants to be something.”

  • Anonymous

    I am tired of people like you. You defend breaking down education by using people that received a good education. Have you asked any of them what they think of current school affairs?

  • Anonymous

    Why are you yelling at pat?

  • Anonymous

    You can use people that could be represented in all states but KS cannot. :/

  • Anonymous

    You are not making fun of the word educable I hope.
    able to be educated.
    “we must have teachers who believe that every child is educable”

  • Anonymous

    I do hope you keep asking people to wake up.

  • Anonymous

    The reporting leaves a lot to be desired!

    Like what? Pamela is one of their trolls?

  • Elise

    Brownback joins the ranks of other dangerous extremists who view people as either “deserving” or “un-deserving”. Their religion is delusional and narcissistic. The Koch Brothers are well aware that their delusions make them perfect puppets to do the Koch bidding and reward them abundantly with endless campaign contributions.
    Brownback is reportedly a “dominionist” who believes that men like himself have dominion over the earth.

  • jan

    No where did I say I approved of Brownback or his policies. No where. In fact, since education was always a priority when I was growing up I doubt even my christian conservative mother would have approved of what he’s doing if he’d been in office before her ability to think started deteriorating.

    All I said was that I am tired of Kansas being the favored whipping post, usually by people on one of the coasts, something that goes beyond politics into sports and a lot of other topics.

    You don’t look any better than Cruz or Santorum, or Rand Paul when you attempt to put people down on the basis of where they live.

  • Mary

    Teachers, plan a last-minute field trip 😉 Kansas People’s Action Thursday Jan 23rd 11:00am (local time) at the Statehouse. We could sure use some Raging Grannies on our side! #ksrising