School children learn that government in America involves three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. In Kansas you can almost include a fourth branch: education.
But across America, there are fifty states and fifty variations on governing K-12 schools. The Kansas Constitution made our Kansas State Board of Education (KSBE) an elected body of ten, with five elected to four-year terms each two years. The KSBE in turn selects the Commissioner of Education who runs the day-to-day State Department of Education. And our KSBE has “self-promulgating powers” more than in most other states. It establishes educational policy (State Board Regulations) after open hearings.
Other states have different systems. In 12 states, the Governor appoints the Commissioner. In another 12 states the State Board is appointed and the Board appoints the chief officer. In 11 states, the governor appoints the State Board and the Commissioner or Superintendent is elected by the people. In nine states, the governor appoints both the State Board and the chief officer. In two states (New York and South Carolina), the state legislature appoints the Board. In two states (Texas and New Mexico) and the District of Columbia, the State Board is elected and the Governor or Mayor appoints the chief officer. In Mississippi, the Board is a mixed appointment between the executive and legislative branches. And Louisiana, Ohio and Washington state have a mix of appointed and elected boards and chiefs. In Minnesota (appointed) and Wisconsin (elected), the chief has no State Board and is the “education czar.”
In only eight states is the State Board elected and it then appoints the Superintendent or Commissioner—as in Kansas. In these last two decades of reform fever, other systems have seen their state legislatures bogged down in micro-managing federal school mandates. States without elected Boards have seen education policy whip-saw from one pet reform to another. Our Kansas Board of Education can focus solely on the complexities of Kansas schools, has maintained stability with the overlapping terms, and has rapidly addressed federal issues—a stark contrast to states where legislators have far wider-ranging responsibility and little depth in school issues.
However, the Kansas Legislature is charged with oversight of the state budget, and essentially half of our state budget goes to K–12 education. The Kansas Constitution requires school funding to be adequate, but that document could not begin to detail today’s and tomorrow’s complexities of an adequate education as it evolves. That is why the judicial branch of government—our courts—will always have the necessary responsibility to interpret the state Constitution when funding is challenged as not meeting that general definition. A Legislature can never usurp that responsibility, for it would make the legislature judge and jury instead.
But the Kansas Executive and Legislature branches have recently intruded into the State Board of Education’s territory. A recent solicitation for innovative schools has garnered proposals that would ignore many KSDE requirements. At the December KSBE meeting, our Education Commissioner indicated that—as soon as the Supreme Court school funding ruling is issued—she would request the Attorney General’s office to clearly delineate the jurisdictional borderline between the KSBE and the other branches of Kansas government on these issues. That is an action of supreme integrity.
In stark contrast, we hear some Kansas Legislators throwing a hissy fit and declaring that they will simply refuse to accept or recognize any Kansas Supreme Court decision mandating adequate school funding. That is a position devoid of integrity.
The legitimacy of our Executive and Legislative branches is based on following the law.
Their legitimate recourse is to seek a Constitutional amendment.
To ignore court rulings is the position of outlaws.