TOPEKA — Public education activists in Kansas sought support for legislation Tuesday to reverse a 2014 law eliminating due-process rights of teachers statewide with at least three years of experience once informed their contracts wouldn’t be renewed.
A half-dozen lawsuits challenging the statute placed in a K-12 budget bill during an after-midnight Senate debate and later signed by Gov. Sam Brownback haven’t restored the personnel hearing rights held for decades by tenured teachers in Kansas. Following election in November of more moderate Republicans and Democrats, House Bill 2179 was introduced in an attempt to turn back the clock. The measure went before the House Education Committee.
“We come here today to call upon this committee to right a wrong and, by doing so, to let the teachers of Kansas know that the war on teachers is over,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist with the Kansas National Education Association.
The new bill was endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers-Kansas, Kansas Families for Education and Kansas Organization of State Employees. The Kansas Association of School Boards offered to help negotiate an alternative to blanket restoration of the pre-2014 standard. A conservative think tank in Wichita, Kansas Policy Institute, objected to the bill.
Following testimony on the bill, Rep. Clay Aurand, the Belleville Republican who chairs the education committee, said deep division among legislators on reinstating due process for teachers suggested timing wasn’t right to consider the bill. He said advancing the due process measure could jeopardize support for a yet-to-be-written bill overhauling the state’s system of financing K-12 public schools. The existing state block-grant program is due to expire.
“My inclination is to not work the bill,” Aurand said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, responded to Aurand with a motion to suspend committee rules and immediately move toward a vote on the legislation. Instead, Aurand ended the meeting.
“It’s not the first time a committee chair has adjourned a committee when I had the votes to pass a piece of legislation,” Ward said.
Aurand and Ward said contents of House Bill 2179 could resurface as an amendment on another education bill during debate by the full House.
The process used to repeal the old law in 2014 played into urgency some legislators feel about restoring the statute. During a late-night session of the Senate three years ago, an amendment striking the statewide due process was lumped into a school spending bill. No House or Senate committee had studied the concept, but a majority of House and Senate negotiators assigned to that bill were comfortable with the change. Teachers from across the state traveled to the Capitol to protest.
Opposition to the deal was so strong in the House that members were locked in the chamber for hours until the minimum 63rd vote could be pressured into supporting the bill. Brownback, who was gearing up for a re-election campaign, signed the bill.
Lisa Ochs, president of AFT-Kansas, said the law contributed to a wave of teacher retirements and resignations while lowering teacher morale.
Some Kansas school districts independently negotiated due process language into teacher contracts, she said.
“These rights protected Kansas teachers from retaliation by administrators or arbitrary firing decisions,” Ochs said. “Most importantly, they gave teaches a voice to advocate for the education and resources their students need and for upholding the standards of the teaching profession.”