Education and the Constitution

TRACKSIDE © by John D’Aloia Jr.

February 3, 2004

On the heels of Judge Bullock’s preliminary decision finding that the method used by Kansas to fund education was unconstitutional, the Associated Press article out of Arkansas must be bouncing around the halls of the capitol like a hot potato. The Arkansas courts, after giving the legislature over a year to resolve constitutional funding issues, took over the school system. A special master will be appointed to determine a course of action which will, no doubt, include opening up the wallets of Arkansas taxpayers by imperial edict, not by the actions of a representative government.

A friend asked if I thought that the Arkansas situation will spook Kansas legislators into doing something that they might not otherwise do. My response was that the Arkansas case will scare more than one legislator. These legislators will be looking for any excuse to roll over and do whatever they can, including throwing as much money as they can at the judge, to prevent being branded at election time as the reason the court stepped in. These legislators will be acting blindly. They probably do not comprehend that besides the adequacy of the amount of money, there is the equally challenging demand that whatever is done, the money has to be distributed equitably - they can send the state into a depression by throwing all the money they can extract from taxpayers at the schools, but if it is not distributed equitably and rationally, Bullock will still use the word "unconstitutional."

Article Six of the Kansas constitution states that the legislature "shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools..." and "shall make suitable provision for the finance of the educational interests of the state." Just how much money does it take to do this? With a bit of outside-the-box thinking, the size of the current pot is probably big enough if K-12 education shed itself of all the mission-creep programs that really do not have much to do with an adequate education. The yelling and screaming of the KNEA and the educrats at the mere thought of doing away with their politically-correct programs would just be further proof that their power and jobs are more important than educating children. I think it is safe to say that legislators are going to be beat over the head with the Arkansas court decision time and again in an effort to soften them up to the demands of the Guv and the educrats.

Few are those legislators who actually have a good grasp of what constitutes an adequate education and have the backbone to stand up and try to offer a solution that will educate children in a constitutional manner and yet not send the state's economy into a tailspin. A state-wide depression would certainly not do any child any good. These few, and others, will actually think about the problem and come up with the proverbial "innovative" solutions. Their numbers limited, they will be drowned out by the drum beat of those shouting the mantra "for the children, more money." The cheerleading will be lead by the educrats and sycophant politicians who see the opportunity to increase their power and control over society by getting their hands on a greater chunk of the state's tax revenue while pointing to the courts as cover.

One person thinking outside-the-box to solve the constitutional issue is Bob Corkins, Executive Director of The Freestate Center for Liberty Studies. Rather than have politicians or judges make a decision that by its scope has to be one-size-fits-all, let parents make the decision for their own children - implement a school choice program. Corkins wrote: "A Kansas school-choice program could squarely address Bullock’s concerns with the state constitution. It could put the ‘opportunity’ back into ‘equal educational opportunity’ by giving people a real choice for their future." School choice is really not an innovative idea. It has been around for a long time, but it certainly is outside-the-box in which the education establishment has trapped students, parents, and taxpayers. Government schools are not the end all. Maybe they would actually get competitive, both financially and academically, if forced to compete against each other and against private-sector schools.

Then again, maybe the nations' entire K-12 education system is so beholden to federal dollars and federal edicts that a state- created school choice program in not obtainable, that parents who subject their children to government schools have absolutely no say in how they are educated, with local school boards but an illusion, kept in place to keep the peace. I pray not as parents, in the end, are the only ones who have the responsibility for the education of their children.




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