Coming soon to Kansas: higher income taxes to help finance better public schools.
That’s the quick takeaway from the state Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday. It challenged Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature to develop a plan to adequately finance public education by June 30.
Lawmakers must rise to that challenge, costly as it will be.
The court’s ruling reaffirmed that the current school block funding system put in place by Brownback and his ultra-conservative followers in 2015 is unconstitutional.
And the Supreme Court made this important finding: The lack of money has led to educational shortcomings for blacks, Hispanics and students who receive free or reduced-priced lunches. (Excerpt below)
The court did not put a price tag on complying with its order to more adequately finance K-12 education. School districts that are plaintiffs in the case have said the added costs could be between $400 million and $1 billion a year.
That’s a lot of money for a state that’s basically broke largely because of Brownback’s disastrously damaging income tax cuts, approved in 2012.
Indeed, the state has to close a $280 million deficit in the next four months of this fiscal year, and already faces about a $600 million budget deficit in the next year. And that’s before adding any extra school funding.
Fortunately, Kansas voters elected more moderate Republican state representatives and senators in the 2016 election.
Just last month, that contingent — along with Democrats in the Legislature — approved higher income taxes aimed at helping to solve the state’s budget woes.
However, the delusional Brownback vetoed the bill; the House overrode it but the Senate fell just three votes shy.
On Thursday, Johnson County moderates and Democrats — plus groups such as Game on for Kansas Schools and the Mainstream Coalition — said they were ready to properly finance schools. As Sen. Barbara Bollier noted, “The court has given us leeway to solve this problem while clearly stating that student outcomes are absolutely impacted by total money spent.”
It also was positive to see that Atty. Gen. Derek Schmidt, who lost the case decided today, issued a statement saying a “bold legislative response” is needed to cure the problems pointed out by the court.
Alas, Brownback remained in la-land on this issue. In statements, he adamantly refused to acknowledge that he and the Legislature had caused part of the problems by underfunding the longtime school financing formula. Then they approved the unconstitutional block grants (which also were underfunded).
— Sam Brownback (@govsambrownback) March 2, 2017
Soon, the Legislature will have to develop a new, more robust school finance formula. It will require more money. It will require higher taxes. It will require the House and Senate passing higher income taxes and repealing Brownback’s 2012 disaster.
Again, this won’t be easy. Last June, lawmakers wrangled for weeks to come up with just an extra $38 million to keep Kansas schools open after a separate Supreme Court ruling.
Ultimately, Brownback must provide real leadership to approve the higher taxes to improve Kansas schools. If he fails, as is likely, the Legislature will need strong veto overrides to accomplish that crucial task.