I feel compelled to provide this brief historical note regarding consolidation of school districts in Kansas and questions over the court’s authority to use Article 6, Section 6 of the Kansas constitution as a basis for compelling the legislature to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” You see, that version of Article 6 wasn’t always there. That bit that requires the legislature to make suitable provision for finance. It was added in the 1960s. Okay… so that means it was added by some hippy do-gooders who don’t represent today’s more thoughtful Kansas values. Wait… that’s not entirely how it happened. The re-drafting of the education articles came about at least in part – if not primarily – because the legislature had repeatedly tried to figure out a way to consolidate schools. If I recall correctly, in the 1940s and later, the legislature passed one law after another trying to force consolidation, but the meddling KS supreme court of the time wouldn’t let them, because they did not have the constitutional authority to do so. So… what did they do… they proposed a redrafting of the education article to grant themselves that authority, and simultaneously granted themselves the responsibility to make suitable provision for finance. In fact, they got the new education article ratified in 1966, just in time to make sure that the 1963 consolidation law could be fully implemented without court intervention.
That in mind, here’s Mike O’Neal back in 2005 responding to the court’s authority to invoke that “suitable” clause in Article 6 –
Some lawmakers questioned whether the court even had the authority to order additional funding.
“If the court is telling me to vote for $143 (million) in extra money, and I don’t think it’s in best interest of the state of Kansas, taxpayers or my school district, I’m not going to do it,” said Rep. Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican and one of the architects of the bill. “I think that’s the way all 165 legislations should feel about it.”
Interestingly, O’Neal seems more than ready – now – to take advantage of the authority granted by the 1966 constitutional revisions, but seems somewhat averse to accepting the responsibility.
Excerpt from a forthcoming book chapter by Bruce Baker and Preston Green:
Separate and Unequal by Design: What’s the Matter with the Rising State Role in Kansas Education?
Previous attempts at consolidation had been overturned on the partial basis that the legislature lacked the authority to delegate control to county level committees to oversee and manage consolidation (Donaldson v. Hines, 1947; School District, Joint No. 71, Rooks County v. Throckmorton, 1962). In the 1963 Act, the legislature adopted an alternative strategy of delegating oversight to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Every significant procedure in the process, including ratification of local elections, required the state superintendent’s decision or approval (State Department of Public Instruction, 1967).
Perhaps questioning whether they were again walking on tenuous ground in allocating so much authority to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, legislators sought to redraft the state’s constitution to specifically grant themselves the authority to do what they had already done. An 11-member citizen task force was formed to make recommendations to legislators regarding guiding principles for revision of Article 6 of the constitution. The proposed language for a new Article 6 included, among other things, the following:
Section 1: The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools, educational institutions and related activities which may be organized and changed in such manner as may be provided by law.
Section 2: (a) The legislature shall provide for a state board of education which shall have general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state, except educational functions delegated by law to the state board of regents. The state board of education shall perform such other duties as may be provided by law.
Section 5: Local public schools under the general supervision of the state board of education shall be maintained, developed and operated by locally elected boards. When authorized by law, such boards may make and carry out agreements for cooperative operation and administration of educational programs under the general supervision of the state board of education, but such agreements shall be subject to limitation, change or termination by the legislature.
Section 6: The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. No tuition shall be charged for attendance at any public school to pupils required by law to attend such school, except such fees or supplemental charges as may be authorized by law. The legislature may authorize the state board of regents to establish tuition, fees and charges at institutions under its supervision.