Sunday, March 20, 2016

KS: The Legislature's Coup

What do you do when your state supreme court rules that you must spend more money on your public education system?

Several states have faced this challenge, and most of them have gone with something simple, like "Just ignore the ruling" (looking at you, Washington state). But Kansas has decided to take a more direct approach.

The funding problem has been brewing for a while, with the Gannon vs. State case dragging on since 2010. In 2014 the court ruled that the state had to fix the inequity of its funding for schools, and the state used a block grant to paper things over for a bit, but now the court has ruled again, giving the legislature till June 30 to get their act together.

Kansas has been a mess for a while now. Governor Brownback and a GOP legislature has tried to turn Kansas into a free market laboratory, with "business friendly" tax cuts that have put the state's finances in free fall. The attempt to implement a full-on super-GOP model is leaving the state broke. Tax cuts for the wealthy didn't trickle down, and the state is now in a mess (while Brownback runs the standard playbook of throwing attention to social issues, as if gay marriage is somehow responsible for Kansas poverty). It is no wonder that education is underfunded in the state using a formula that the state supreme court says is unconstitutional.

And that's not all. Kansas has voted to allow unlicensed persons to teach in the classroom. They voted to strip teachers of all job protections in a bizarre fracas that featured the Koch Brothers coming to Topeka to extort votes out of moderate GOP members (Nice re-election prospects you have there. Shame if anything happened to them). They have suggested that teacher evaluation could be handled by the school janitor. And they have been watching a steady exodus of teachers from the state. All that on top of the purposeful and deliberate underfunding of education, which is where the state supreme court shows up to tell them they are violating the state's own constitution.

 The official Kansas Road To Nowhere

So back to the problem-- what do you do if the courts tell you that your legislation is illegal?

You change the laws so that you can get rid of the courts.

The Kansas legislators are trying to redefine "high crimes and misdemeanors" for which judges can be impeached to include such items as "attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power," "failure to perform adequately the duties of office," and, most spectacularly, "attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of the government."

This is a spectacular grab. Should this pass, not only can the legislature ignore court rulings it doesn't like-- it can use those court rulings as grounds for removing the offending judge from the bench. Charles Pierce at Esquire, speaking of the legislature in an article accurately entitled "The Great Let's-Totally-F*ck-Up-Kansas-Experiment Is Nearly Complete" sums up the situation nicely:

They recognize no limits to their power, no curbs to their desire. There are few frontiers in democratic government that they will not work to violate, or to twist to their own purposes. And they absolutely will not stop. Ni shagu nazad, as Stalin said to his army. Not one step backwards.

Oh, and either to make things seem better, or to hedge their bets against any future elections, the legislature also wants to extend this language to members of the executive branch as well.

This is a reminder once again that attempts to gut public education are often just the tip of the iceberg, one more arm of the big-money octopus that finds democracy unpleasant and unpalatable because it lets The Wrong People have a voice in how their country and state are run. Better to shut down any and all dissenting voices, even if those voices are coming from officials in robes, and even if shutting down those robes represents a baldfaced attempt to overturn the principle of checks and balances. Balance of power? We'll tell you how power should be balanced-- we should have all of it and people who disagree with us should have none of it. And when our state's economy is spinning out of control toward a cliff made of the burning empty husks of failed economic policy, nobody had better dare to try to give us a reality check. Our will can triumph over reality itself, as long as no other voices are allowed to speak.

Look for the Kansas legislature to pass laws stripping PhD's from scientists who insist on pointing out that the earth is not flat and gravity is not small invisible gnomes. Maybe they'll also legislate the defrocking of ministers who point out that repeated and willful disregard for the well-being of other humans is an offense to God.

So, good job, Kansas legislature. You may or may not win the prize for Worst Legislature in America, but you've got a good shot at First Legislature To Drive Its State Right Into Oblivion. Maybe a new name would help. Maybe The Royal Republic of Kansastan. Or maybe you could go back to using democracy and actual not-already-discredited economic principles to run your state.


  1. Wow, what a depressing read.

    It's interesting how corporate reformers have a situational view of the value of courts, and how powerful they should be relative to the two other branches of government.

    In California, shredding teachers' job protections was tried as a referendum by Governor Schwarzenegger in November 2005.

    NO, said the people to this blatant power grab by the Executive branch.

    To capitalize on aftermath of a notorious child abuse scandal at one Los Angeles school, corporate reform-controlled legislators tried to ram through legislation that would have had the same impact as Vergara --- turning all public school teachers into "at-will employees." This was back in late June 2012, where then-UTLA teachers union president Warren Fletcher went head-to-head with corporate reform LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in a committee hearing, with dueling testimonies and Q & A from the relevant state assembly members.

    The will of the people --- through their legislators --- voted NO, and the bill died in an assembly committee (though that vote cost one of them their jobs). Deasy made Fletcher a marked man after that, and after another clash with Fletcher, ceased all communication with him. (but that's another story.)


    The Executive Branch tried and failed.

    The Legislative Branch tried and failed.

    Why, what's left? Why, the courts, of course.

    Hence, you have "Vergara," where some idiot judge ruled that teachers should have the same job protections as the fry cook at McDonald's---none.

    Later on, two candidates were running for California State Superintendent of Instruction. Torlakson was the incumbent and was part of a state lawsuit to reverse Vergara. Tuck was the challenger, and he vowed to drop the appeal that Torlakson initiated... at which point Vergara would go into immediate effect.

    This was the basic issue of that campaign, with the question put to the public: "Do you think that public school teachers should lose all their job protections?"

    Well, the people voted once again. NO, they said, teachers deserve those protections.

    Now, it's a different world in Kansas. The corporate reformers own the Executive and the Legislative branches, but it's that darn Judicial branch that won't bend to their will.

    Here's a solution, we'll pass blatantly un-Constitutional legislation that destroys the independence and power of the the Judicial branch, effectively wiping out a third of the government, and the overall system of checks-and-balances in Kansas.

    When corporate education reformers need the courts to execute union-busting and school privatization, then it's just jim dandy that they have power.

    However, when the courts are getting in the way of union-busting and school privatization, then they must be crushed
    through dubious legislation.

  2. On the topic of de-professionalizing teaching, and watering down, or downright eliminating any and all requirements to teach, check out the latest in "Sin City" Las Vegas.

    At the end of an editorial from the right-wing Las
    Vegas Review-Journal, it says that when it comes to
    being qualified to teacher, a credential is "a
    requirement of dubious need," and must be eliminated.
    I presume a Bachelor's Degree would also fall into that
    category, based on the same logic.

    It's also a requirement that slows union-busting, charter and
    voucher school expansion ... that the new owners
    of the paper are tied into... more on that after the


    "It's hardly a revelation that Nevada has a shortage of K-12 teachers. The problem dates back to the valley's boom years. It affects plenty of other states as well.

    " .. "

    (then talks about the latest move to allow teachers with out-of-state credentials to teach on an emergency basis, while they obtain a Nevada credential --- a process that takes about 2-4 months before that out-of-state teacher could teach... but here's the kicker)

    "This is a good step on the state's path to education reform. It recognizes that the licensing bureaucracy absolutely shares the blame — and has for more than a decade — for Nevada's inability to hire teachers.

    (not the horrible salaries, benefits job conditions, Jack ... or the fact that a credentialing requirement leads to higher salaries for teachers, and a removal of that requirement would lead to lower taxes for businesses ... even though this would also produce and uneducated, unproductive workforce in Nevada... blah-blah-blah ...)

    "But the new regulations, while much needed, don't go nearly far enough. If it's OK for a teacher to work for one year without having one particular college credit fulfilled, and that instructor performs competently, then why not a two-year window or a four-year window?

    "Or how about this: If that teacher proves completely competent in all aspects of the job, save for a requirement of dubious need, why not waive that requirement completely?

    "Granted, teachers can't just be pulled off the street. There has to be some level of training and vigorous background checks. But the state's existing licensing structure is only in place to protect current teachers against competition from an influx of perfectly capable educators.

    "It's protectionism, pure and simple."

    "Gov. Sandoval has done well with this measure, and Clark County will immediately be the largest beneficiary, as the change is already in effect.

    "But the governor and the Nevada Education Department should push it further. It's time to take a really comprehensive look at teacher licensing and implement more drastic simplifications across the board."


    Who wrote this crap?

    Well, the New Yorker has the answer to that:

  3. Bill Maher did a great piece on Kansans and Brownback a couple years ago. In his re-election bid, Brownback was losing to his Democratic challenger, with even prominent Republicans breaking with their party and endorsing the challenger --- due to the extremist actions of Koch-puppet Brownback & Co. described above.

    Well, the Republicans "Borked" the Democrat running for governor or, if you will, "Swift-boated" him over a decades-old visit to a strip club... and here's Maher to tell the story: