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Anthony Hensley: Brownback should listen to a teacher

  • Published Friday, April 11, 2014, at 5:45 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, April 11, 2014, at 5:45 p.m.

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When Gov. Sam Brownback delivered his 2013 State of the State message to a joint session of the Legislature, he said: “And of all those you could learn from, may I suggest paying particular attention to a teacher?”

Those kind comments were directed at me, a public school teacher going on 40 years and the Kansas Senate Democratic leader. The governor went on to introduce me to the joint session as the longest-serving legislator in Kansas history.

I hope the governor will take his own advice here as well. He should pay particular attention to a teacher who voted against the school bill recently approved by the 2014 Legislature, as hundreds of other teachers spent the weekend camped out in the state Capitol in protest of the bill.

Though passage of the bill now raises school-finance equity issues beyond those cited by the Kansas Supreme Court, the bill most certainly makes radical changes in education policy.

The bill creates for the first time tax credits for corporations to give out “scholarships” for public school students to enroll in private schools. This change in education policy comes at the inopportune time, when state financing for K-12 public schools has been drastically reduced by the governor and his legislative allies.

The bill also would eliminate teacher due-process rights – a law that’s been on the books for nearly 60 years. Under current law, teachers have the right to know the reasons why they are being terminated and the right to a fair hearing to ensure those reasons are legitimate. The change in law will take our state back to the 1950s, when teachers served as “at will” employees and could be fired for any reason.

In fact, in 1957, the state Supreme Court recognized that due-process protection for teachers was sound public policy. It wrote that such laws were intended “to protect competent and worthy instructors and other members of the teaching profession against unjust dismissal of any kind – political, religious or personal.”

Worse yet, this change in teacher due process was an amendment offered during Senate floor debate in the early hours of the morning and without any public notice or public hearing. Those who dedicate their lives to teaching our children in our public schools deserve better than that.

If the governor truly believes in taking his own advice – to pay particular attention to a teacher – I implore him to either veto this bill or insist that legislators repeal its radical education policies when they return to Topeka on April 30.

Anthony Hensley of Topeka is the Democratic leader of the Kansas Senate.

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