Deep-red politics are gaining a foothold in North Carolina, Louisiana and Wisconsin, but few states have taken things as far as Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican majority in the legislature have pushed through a number of conservative reforms. Few have been more controversial than the decision to cut 16.5 percent of state spending on K-12 education. A number of parents and schools challenged it in court, arguing that the paltry sums spent on education violate the state constitution’s provision that the state will “provide for the education” of all of its residents. Last year, a trial court mandated that the state increase funding by $400 million, and the Governor appealed the ruling to the state supreme court.Late last week, the court finally made a decision, but it wasn’t quite the bombshell that many were expecting. Although it did rule that the state needed to even the spending levels in districts throughout the state, it punted on the bigger question of whether the state was spending too little on education. It merely asked the lower court to reconsider its ruling while casting some doubt upon the notion that courts can mandate that a state spend a specific amount on its students. The NYT:
“Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education” under the State Constitution, the decision read.Mr. Brownback and his fellow Republicans who are legislative leaders cast that point as a victory during a news conference at the Capitol on Friday afternoon. “It says schools should be measured by performance and outcomes, not by just money spent,” Mr. Brownback said. “It focuses on equity — that a child in the poorer part of the state should have an equal opportunity at an education as someone from the richer part of the state, and I agree.”
This isn’t quite a victory for Sam Brownback. It’s entirely possible that the lower court’s new ruling will look very similar to the last one. Nonetheless, it’s a good sign that much of Brownback’s reforms will go through, and the court’s statement that per-student spending is not the best barometer of education jibes well with Brownback’s outlook on education policy. For those looking to measure the impact of deep-red education policy, Kansas is still one of the best places to look.