Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

EDITORIAL>> The Jayhawker remedy

Pssst. Pass it on, but donít tell the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court lest they get ideas about the prerogatives of an appellate court. Friday, in a case breathtakingly similar to Arkansasí Lake View case, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the legislature had failed to provide the funding for Kansas schools that the state Constitution required.

It gave the governor and the legislature until July 1 to provide another $143 million for the schools next year.

Otherwise, the state will be in default and Kansas schools may have to be closed in the fall.

Within hours, the governor and legislative leaders were huddling about how they might meet the deadline.

The court observed that the legislature had hired Colorado consultants to determine what an adequate school program for all children, which was required by the Constitution, would entail and what it would cost.

The legislature must at least provide what its own unrebutted study showed was necessary, the justices said.

Conditions could hardly be more similar, except the Arkansas legislature hired not one but two sets of experts to enumerate the essential needs of Arkansas schools, one for programs and another for school facilities.

The Arkansas legislature met neither standard, but it fell glaringly short on school facilities. Its own study, celebrated by legislative leaders themselves, said Arkansas needed to spend more than $2 billion to provide safe and modern schools for children. Then the legislature allocated $104 million to meet that need. It could have provided $250 million without raising a dime of new revenue and created a mechanism for raising future capital for schools through general-obligation bonds, but it didnít.

The Arkansas Supreme Court is deliberating whether to hold the lawmakers and Gov. Huckabee responsible now or let their failures percolate through the judicial system for another three years by forcing a fresh lawsuit.

Arkansas has never taken cues from the Jayhawks, but they may have it right this time.