Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Old Kansas Constitution Stirs New Passions on School Finance

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Old Kansas Constitution Stirs New Passions on School Finance

Article excerpt

Before the current debates and lawsuits over school finance, Kansas had a different standard: the Wyandotte Constitution.

As far back as the pre-Civil War document that served as the state's original constitution, Kansas has enshrined a requirement to fund public education.

The founding text surfaced in debate among lawmakers this past week over how to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court, which has ruled funding between rich and poor school districts is inequitable. Lawmakers even considered what school finance would look like today if that original constitution was still in effect.

The moment served as a reminder: for all the attention on school finance right now in Kansas, the state has grappled with questions over funding public education for decades.

During a joint meeting of House and Senate Judiciary committees, Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, suggested lawmakers should look to the original Wyandotte Constitution for guidance.

The constitution was drafted while Kansas was still a territory and was the constitution that Congress considered when it approved Kansas as a state. The text came after multiple failed attempts at a constitution.

The document established a fund for public education. It said money in the fund, which came from the sale of land, must be disbursed to the districts in equitable proportion to the number of children and youth in the district.

Lawmakers have been wrestling over how to respond to the Supreme Court and over potential changes to the state constitution that would bar the court from ever closing schools -- something lawmakers fear might happen if they don't meet a June 30 deadline to enact an equitable funding system.

Smith, a social studies teacher for the Shawnee Mission School District in Johnson County, made clear he wasn't saying Kansas should revert back to the 1850s constitution. But he suggested the document could serve as a base for defining equity. …

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