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Power Play? Kansas Supreme Court Threatens to Shut down Schools

A 40-year-old funding fight that touches questions of the proper separation of government powers has reached fever pitch in the state of Kansas. The state Supreme Court has threatened to shut down public schools should the state legislature fail to appropriate an additional $38 million in funds by the court mandated deadline of June 30.

The court ruled in May that the state’s $4 billion block grant appropriation of school funding was “inequitable and unconstitutional,” giving the legislature its deadline to rework the school financing. The court issued its proclamation at 4:55pm on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, the last weekend before the legislature adjourned for 2016.

The block grant program was adopted as a temporary replacement of a decades old program of school finance that was causing automatic spending increases Kansas Republicans deemed wasteful. In scrapping the old program for a block grant program, the court decided Governor Brownback and the Kansas legislature had violated the state constitution.

Governor Brownback has proclaimed a special session of the legislature to begin June 23 — two weeks from now, to resolve the finance issue. In a statement released by the Governor’s office, Brownback said it was “distressing that the Kansas Supreme Court has put the schools and legislature of Kansas in this position over less than 1 percent of school funding.”

The Legal Problem

The Supreme Court found that Governor Brownback’s block grant funding program violated the Kansas state constitution because it did not provide “equitable and adequate” funding for Kansas schools.

Article 6, Section 6 of the Kansas constitution requires that “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” Historically, the courts in Kansas have defined the word “suitable” to mean “equitable and adequate.”

The Wichita Eagle, reporting on the court’s May decision, explained how the court decided Governor Brownback’s block grant program didn’t meet the “equitability requirement” of the Kansas constitution.

“The reason was that it contained a “hold harmless” provision that guaranteed the bill wouldn’t reduce local option budget funding for any school district, although the vast majority wouldn’t get any more. The local option budget, or LOB, is money that voters can elect to tax themselves to provide extra funding for their own schools.

Inequity creeps in because property-rich districts can easily raise large sums of money with relatively small increases in their tax rate. Not so for the poor districts, where it takes a large jump in property tax rates to generate comparable income for the schools.”

“It is unfortunate that the Kansas Supreme Court has put at risk the education of Kansas students and livelihood of teachers across the state by threatening to close schools on June 30,” Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said in a statement. “The court is engaging in political brinksmanship with this ruling, and the cost will be borne by our students.”

The Funding Fight

Governor Brownback’s administration has been characterized by fiscal restraint. The growth of government spending in Kansas was reduced to 1.7%, which is less than half of the growth rate under Brownback’s predecessor, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius. Executive agency employees were reduced 25% and Brownback slashed cabinet level spending across the board.

And Brownback’s administration accomplished this while signing into law the largest tax cut in the state’s history.

Yet education has remained a top priority of Brownback’s administration and education funding has remained at record levels despite cuts to spending elsewhere.

In his 2015 State of the State address, Governor Brownback issued a call to reform the school finance process. “For decades now, Kansas has struggled under a school finance formula which is designed not to be understood,” the Governor said. “A formula designed to lock in automatic, massive increases in spending unrelated to actual student populations or improved student achievement.”

Governor Brownback’s office provided Conservative Review with a copy of the archaic and complex formula used to determine school finance appropriations in the state of Kansas, for much of the past 20 years.

2014 2015 k12 school funding formula

In his State of the State, Brownback called for a “timeout in the school finance wars,” a repeal of the old formula, and he proposed a simple program of block-grant funding for two years as a temporary solution to the state’s education finance woes. Brownback’s plan froze school funding at FY 2013-2014 levels until the legislature could develop a new scheme to replace that archaic and confounding mess of a budget formula.

The Republican controlled legislature passed the block grant scheme, and state Democrats assailed them for doing so, accusing the Brownback administration of slashing funds for education. But that’s not accurate.

Kansas is actually investing a record $4 billion in K-12 education. The state spends the 3rd most on education of any state in the country as a percent of the state budget: 50%. Kansas spends about $1000 more per pupil than the national average of state education spending. Increases in education funding have outpaced both inflation and enrollment growth.

kansasschoolbudget

The additional $38 million the state Supreme Court is ordering is less than 1% of the funds already appropriated to Kansas schools.

The specific fund in question, Local Operating Budget Equalization, goes to property tax relief, which does not affect the ability of schools to fund their classroom operations. It is this particular fund that the Supreme Court says is creating the “inequitably” that violates Kansas’ state constitution.

A Separation of Powers Issue

At the heart of the matter is a simple question. What does “suitable funding” mean? And which branch of government gets to answer that question?

Responding to a request for comment, Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for the governor, said “other courts have faced a similar question. The Texas Supreme Court correctly recognized that the Constitution guarantees the power of the purse to the Legislature, stating ‘accordingly, we decline to usurp legislative authority by issuing reform diktats from on high, supplanting lawmakers’ policy wisdom with our own.”

Supporters of Governor Brownback’s block grant scheme argue it is the legislative branch, the branch invested with the power of the purse, that should decide what funding is “suitable” when it appropriates funds.

Governor Brownback has indicated he is open to the legislature granting the court’s request for an additional $38 million in funds, though he views the excess government spending as unnecessary. Yet his administration seems to wish to keep in mind the constitutional separation of powers, telling Conservative Review that the governor would “welcome any alternatives that the legislature may propose.”

Hawley added, however, that it is “unlikely that the Court will uphold any action without an increase in funding.” (For more from the author of “Power Play? Kansas Supreme Court Threatens to Shut down Schools” please click HERE)

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Ex-Army Recruit Pleads Guilty to Trying to Bomb Fort Riley in Kansas

A former U.S. Army enlistee who vowed to “bring the Islamic State straight to your doorstep” pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempting to detonate a car bomb at Fort Riley military base in Kansas, authorities said.

John T. Booker Jr., 21, an American citizen also known as Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia to one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempted destruction of government property by fire or explosion, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department. He’s to receive a 30-year federal prison sentence.

“John Booker admitted that he intended to kill U.S. military personnel on American soil in the name of ISIL,” John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement, referring to the terror organization also known as ISIS . . .

Booker admitted in court that his plot involved the construction of a bomb containing 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, according to federal prosecutors. He intended to trigger the bomb himself and filmed a video that was to be shown to Americans after his death in the suicide bombing. (Read more from “Ex-Army Recruit Pleads Guilty to Trying to Bomb Fort Riley in Kansas” HERE)

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Kansas Governor Issues Executive Order Protecting Religious Organizations

In a move that has been applauded by many in the Christian community, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting the state from taking action against clergy or religious social service agencies who refuse service to same-sex couples due to their religious beliefs.

According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, Executive Order 15-05, “Preservation and Protection of Religious Freedom,” argues that both the United States Constitution and the State of Kansas have provisions which restrict government interference with the right of individuals to practice religion according to their consciences.

Thus, Brownback’s order explicitly prohibits state officials from taking “discriminatory action” against both clergy members and religious organizations who apply that religious practice to facilitation of services for homosexual couples.

“The State Government is prohibited from taking any action inconsistent with the restrictions placed upon the State Government by the United States Constitution, or the Kansas Constitution, or the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, against any individual clergy, religious leader, or religious organization on the basis that such person or organization believes or sincerely acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman,” the order reads.

[Listen to Kansas’s Secretary of State discuss the need for the states to resist the federal government]

Brownback’s order comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all 50 states. Among other states, the SCOTUS decision overturned the will of 70 percent of Kansas voters who, in 2005, approved an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. (Read more from “Kansas Governor Issues Executive Order Protecting Religious Organizations” HERE)

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Activist Kansas Judge Blocks Legislature’s Ban on Dismemberment Abortions

By Associated Press. A Kansas judge blocked the state’s first-in-the-nation ban on a procedure that opponents refer to as “dismemberment abortion”, concluding it would likely present too big an obstacle for women seeking to end their pregnancies.

Shawnee County district court judge Larry Hendricks ruled in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. The center represents two Kansas abortion providers and argued the law would force women to undergo riskier procedures or forgo abortions.

The center argued that the procedure banned by the law is used in 95% of second trimester abortions nationally and said previous US supreme court rulings don’t allow a state to ban the most common method for terminating a pregnancy. Hendricks said those arguments were likely to prevail, even though alternative abortion methods still would be legal.

“The alternatives do not appear to be medically necessary or reasonable,” Hendricks said from the bench.

The judge’s order will stay in effect while he considers the lawsuit further. The new law was supposed to take effect 1 July. (Read more from “Kansas Judge Blocks Ban on Dismemberment Abortions” HERE)

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Two Years Later, Family Remembers Baby Walter, Miscarried at 19 Weeks

By Nancy Flanders. Two years ago the Fretz family’s world was forever changed when their baby boy was born too soon. At just 19 weeks and six days gestation, Lexi Fretz rushed to the ER in labor. Due to an incompetent cervix, she gave birth to Walter Joshua Fretz five hours later.

“I was crying so hard,” she writes. “He was fully formed and everything was there. I could see his heart beating in his tiny chest.”

Walter’s father, Joshua Fretz, quickly went to get his camera. He took photographs of his wife, Walter, and his daughters. Although Walter lived for only a few moments, the photographs are now eternally famous.

After Walter passed away and the Lexi was discharged from the hospital, she shared the photos and the story of their loss on Facebook. That’s when Walter’s short life was given a lifetime of purpose . . .

Since losing Walter, the family has welcomed daughter number three to the family. Mia joined big sisters, Michayla and Emma, in the fall of 2014. A surgery at 13 weeks gestation allowed Lexi Fretz to carry Mia to term. Her sisters, devastated by the loss of their brother, were ecstatic to have a new baby to love. (Read more from this story HERE)

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Brownback Signs Bill That Allows Permit-Free Concealed Carry of Guns in Kansas

BrownbackKansans soon can carry concealed weapons without permits or training under a bill signed by Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday.

The new law, which kicks in July 1, makes Kansas the sixth state to allow “constitutional carry.” It will allow Kansans 21 and older to carry concealed firearms regardless of whether they have obtained a permit.

Training still will be required for anyone who wants to carry a concealed gun in the 36 states that accept Kansas permits.

Brownback touted the importance of training, explaining that his youngest son took a hunter safety course this past week.

“It was an excellent course. He got a lot out of it. I got a lot out of it. And I want to urge people to take advantage of that,” said Brownback, who was flanked by Republican lawmakers and representatives from the National Rifle Association and Kansas State Rifle Association. (Read more from “Brownback Signs Bill That Allows Permit-Free Concealed Carry of Guns in Kansas” HERE)

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Kansas Becomes the First in the Nation to Ban Dismemberment Abortions

Great news from Kansas. [Friday] morning the Kansas Senate approved SB 95, the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, by a vote of 31-9.

Crafted to withstand constitutional scrutiny, SB 95 heads to a very receptive Kansas House, where it is expected to pass easily. The bill would then go to pro-life Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who promised to sign this bill.

Lead sponsor Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma) began Thursday’s formal discussion on the Senate floor by recounting how members of the Senate Health committee heard an ex-abortionist describe this method “of tearing the arms, legs, and other body parts off until a baby dies. Hearing the description made myself and many other members of the committee feel sick [especially] when learning nearly 600 such abortions occur each year in Kansas.”

Sen. Love, the “youngest-ever-elected” to the Kansas Senate, discussed his new baby daughter and coming to love her more through her ultrasound imaging at 12 and 19 weeks gestation, the time frame when most dismemberment abortions occur. He said “people in my generation are outraged by this procedure; they see the sonograms of their friends, family and their own babies on Facebook and realize that in those pictures are little, defenseless babies. They need us to defend them because they cannot defend themselves…This is a truly barbaric practice we must end in Kansas.” (Read more about the law to ban dismemberment abortions HERE)

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You’ll Never Guess What Creepy Object Police Found in a Child Sex Offender’s Home [+video]

Louie, the Joyland Clown mascot, was found in a sex offender’s home. Louie went missing more than a decade ago.

Louie disappeared from the Joyland property in 2005 or 2006 but wasn’t reported stolen until 2010. Louie played Joyland’s Wurlitzer organ (see video below).

The Wichita Police Department will pursue charges against two suspects in the case.

Wichita police say officers found the clown Tuesday at a home of 39-year-old Damian Mayes, who is serving a prison sentence for a 2010 conviction for aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sodomy. Mayes used to build and repair organs at the park. He’s in prison on child sex crimes.

“It was quite a shock, because we had visited that residence before. They didn’t expect us back, they thought it was a done deal, closed, forgotten case, but like I said, through social media and a lot of interest not only in Joyland but the clown in particular, kind of kept it alive,” said Det. Matt Lang, Wichita Police Department. “There’s many articles that said once Louie disappeared, he would never see the sight of day again.” (Read more about the creepy object police found HERE)

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Watch: A Small School in Kansas Makes a Big Difference in a Teenage Girl’s Life

As she smiled broadly, blue and gold pom poms clutched in her hands, it is hard to believe this is an experience Council Grove High School freshman Kolbie Davis nearly didn’t have.

Her mom, Jeannette, says she and her husband, Jamie, considered holding their 15-year-old daughter out of high school. Kolbie was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a condition which cut off oxygen to her brain. It caused permanent damage and developmental delays. Jeannette feared Kolbie wouldn’t be able to handle the high school environment.

“I was very concerned for her being in the hallway with a lot of kids and all the noise and the interaction between teenagers,” Jeannette said.

While Jeannette, Jamie and Kolbie’s eight-year-old brother Will, knew how loving and positive Kolbie could be, they worried how she would do around other teenagers. Plus, Jeannette says, Kolbie would not speak very much and was often frightened or confused by loud noise or a lot of activity.

Still, they took a chance. One day, the school’s cheerleading coach filled in as Kolbie’s para and brought her to practice. Kolbie was immediately hooked, saying she loves everything about cheerleading. (Read more on how the small school in Kansas makes a big difference HERE)

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Kansas Secretary of State to File Suit Against King Obama's Executive Amnesty

Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

TONGANOXIE, KAN. – [Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach] has devoted his career to an immigration fight he always believed would be incremental. First he sued states for offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. Then he wrote tough immigration enforcement laws for Arizona and Alabama. Then he counseled Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on the legality of using the National Guard to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. He has been playing the long game, hoping to build a consensus case against amnesty over the course of his career . . .

People are enraged. They ask about the possibilities of impeachment or arresting the president for treason, and Kobach shakes his head. “Then what can we do?” one man asks.

Kobach says he has spent the last week considering that question, and he can think of only two options. “Congress could vote to defund parts of the government,” he says, but his friends in Congress tell him that is unlikely. The other option is a lawsuit filed by states and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents against the federal government. “That one’s on me,” he says. He tells the group he has already begun drafting a suit as the lead attorney, with plans to file it in early December. Texas is interested in being a plaintiff. So are a few other states. . .

“What bothers me most is the constitutionality of this,” he tells one Republican lawmaker over the phone, the day after Obama’s [amnesty] announcement. Kobach is working on the lawsuit, 40 or 50 pages already written. “We have a clear violation here of Article 2, Section 3,” he says. . .

The key to his lawsuit is finding the right plaintiffs, he says, so he has spent the last weeks compiling a list of more than a dozen ICE agents who he says are eager to file suit. They were hired and trained to enforce the country’s immigration laws, and now, he says, they believe that the president is essentially asking them to break those laws. Kobach also wants at least one state to be a plaintiff, likely Texas and possibly others. States are “lining up to sue this time,” he says. He could file one lawsuit on behalf of several states, which he thinks might have the best chance of reaching the Supreme Court. Or he could file individual lawsuits, one for each state, and force the issue into several federal court districts.

Read more from this story HERE.

78 Year-Old Mystery Man's Stop in Junction City, Kansas Leads to $15 Million Cash, Hundreds of Pounds of Pot

78 Year Old Pot Bust DefendantWhen police in Junction City, Kansas, stopped a beat-up pickup truck for speeding in June 2013, the driver got a lot more than a traffic ticket: The stop led authorities to Massachusetts and Arizona, where they said they found about $15 million in cash, almost 400 pounds of marijuana and ledgers detailing drug deals going back to 1992.

The driver, Marshall Dion, told police he was a retiree from Tucson who was living off his $690-per-month Social Security check. He also said he had left his drug-dealing days behind, but federal authorities say he was still going strong at age 78 as a key player in a large marijuana operation. In his truck, police found $828,220 in cash. . .

Much of Dion’s life is a mystery. Public records show he has lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; Grand Junction, Colorado; and Tucson, Arizona. He told police who stopped him in Kansas that he was headed home to Tucson from Pennsylvania, where he had met with his accountant.

Dion, now 79, appeared to live frugally, despite the millions authorities found and two homes he owned in Arizona. When he was stopped in Kansas, he was driving a 2002 GMC Sierra with an old refrigerator and other junk in the truck bed. . .

In 1985, Dion crashed a single-engine plane he was piloting in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Dion broke both his ankles. When sheriff’s deputies arrived, he was crawling along a muddy field as bills floated in the air, said Cathy Baxter, then a deputy sheriff. ‘‘This guy didn’t even admit there was any money on the plane. He said, ‘That’s not my money. I don’t know where that money came from,’’’ Baxter said.

Read more from this story HERE.