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Ken Rechtin's Another Voice: Time to Close Some School Districts

I want to begin this week’s column with a big shout out “Thank you!” to Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Senator Chris Girdler (R-Somerset). I was struggling with the “lead in” to this week’s Another Voice and the senators have helped me out!

In their recent opinion column, published in The River City News, the senators argued for a later statewide public school start date. Their measure, as they say: “would prevent schools from starting earlier than the first Monday closest to August 26."

Truthfully, I really don’t wish to discuss the timing of the beginning of the public school year. 

Chip Adkins, an RCN reader, said it best: “(This is) a solution in search of a problem. We obviously pay some lawmakers too much money.”

Chip, I couldn’t agree more! The Senators are way beyond their role/responsibilities with respect to our public schools.

So, what is their role? Where do you find their responsibilities? The role of the senators with regard to our public education system is stated in the Kentucky Constitution. Our current constitution, the fourth constitution in Kentucky, was adopted in 1891.

Sections 183 to 189 of the current constitution speak to education. Here is Section 183 in its entirety: 

The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State. (Text as Ratified on: August 3, 1891, and revised September 28, 1891. History: Not yet amended.)

This directive to the General Assembly still stands today. It has not been changed or amended. I am not an attorney. I don’t even play one on TV. So, instead of thinking like an attorney, let’s just use our common sense and re-read this sentence to clearly understand the charge to the General Assembly. The General Assembly, which is made up of the elected House and Senate members (Senators Thayer and Girdler included in this grouping), “shall provide for”. This is not a “may provide for”; this is a mandate! They must do this through appropriate legislation. 

To provide for something indicates, in my mind, the provision of resources, the funding. So, the appropriate legislation used in funding an activity of government is the budget. 

What is it that they are to provide? They must provide “an efficient system of common schools throughout the State.” Here we come to what I consider to be the most critical word in the mandate given by the framers of our Commonwealth’s Constitution: “efficient”. The writers of our constitution did not just say a public school system. They did not say an “equal” system. They did not even say a “fair” system! The word they used to explain the type of system the General Assembly must set up was, “efficient”.  

So, what is the definition of the adjective “efficient”? To begin to understand the use and definition of this word, we will look at the Supreme Court of Kentucky’s decision, made in 1989, in the Case of Rose v. Council for Better Education. (Here comes the “legal speak”.) In that case, the Supreme Court found the General Assembly to be in violation of the Constitution, saying:

“The essential, and minimal, characteristics of an "efficient" system of common schools, may be summarized as follows:

  1. The establishment, maintenance and funding of common schools in Kentucky is the sole responsibility of the General Assembly.
  2. Common schools shall be free to all.
  3. Common schools shall be available to all Kentucky children.
  4. Common schools shall be substantially uniform throughout the state.
  5. Common schools shall provide equal educational opportunities to all Kentucky children, regardless of place of residence or economic circumstances.
  6. Common schools shall be monitored by the General Assembly to assure that they are operated with no waste, no duplication, no mismanagement, and with no political influence.
  7. The premise for the existence of common schools is that all children in Kentucky have a constitutional right to an adequate education. 8) The General Assembly shall provide funding which is sufficient to provide each child in Kentucky an adequate education. 9) An adequate education is one which has as its goal the development of the seven capacities recited previously. 

“The General Assembly must not only establish the system, but it must monitor it on a continuing basis so that it will always be maintained in a constitutional manner. The General Assembly must carefully supervise it, so that there is no waste, no duplication, no mismanagement, at any level.”

I may disagree with some of the definitions of the word “efficient” that were arrived at by the Kentucky Supreme Court. But, in item #6 above: “Common schools shall be monitored by the General Assembly to assure that they are operated with no waste, no duplication, no mismanagement, and with no political influence”, the Court got it right!

When I went to school (not law school), we would look up a word in Funk and Wagnalls or Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Today we can go to the internet and find the meaning of a word in “Dictionary.com”. In Dictionary.com, the word “efficient” is said to mean: “performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; having and using requisite knowledge, skill and industry; competent; capable.” 

So, it is the General Assembly’s responsibility to provide a common schools system that has a minimum of waste and expense. 

If the General Assembly is not doing this, they are in violation of their oath to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth. 

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of .... according to law……”

There are 173 publicly funded school districts in the Commonwealth. How is it efficient to fund 173 school districts within 120 counties? 

The fact that the General Assembly continues to fund and promote this inefficient common school delivery system is the reason that I think the General Assembly is in violation of their oath of office. 

Narrowing the focus to Campbell County (just one of the 120 counties): How is having seven publicly funded school districts in Campbell County, all funded in part with state monies, efficient? How is it efficient when the economic and/or educational performance of some of those districts is well below average? How is this acceptable? 

So, before the current system is deemed unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court, how does the General Assembly correct the violation of their oath to uphold the constitution? 

The simple answer is to begin eliminating inefficient school districts!

But how, you ask?!

I have some ideas that I will write about in my next column; but what do you think? Is the system of common schools as funded by the General Assembly efficient? 

The views and opinions expressed here in “Another Voice” do not reflect the views or opinions of The River City News, its owners, writers, or editors. These are solely the ideas of Ken Rechtin. If you wish to make comment to Another Voice, Ken can be reached via email at [email protected] or you may leave a comment here. All rights to use of Another Voice in any fashion are retained by Ken Rechtin. Please contact him for any use of his columns.