Gov. Sam Brownback praised the financial part of the state Legislature’s bill to resolve the school finance crisis, but would not say whether he agrees with a part of the bill designed to strip teachers of rights to due process before they can be fired.
Brownback also said he doesn’t know whether he has the authority to selectively veto the part of the bill dealing with teacher tenure and due process, or whether he must make an all-or-nothing decision to veto the entire bill or let it become law.
Brownback fielded questions on the school finance bill Wednesday morning after an event at Exploration Place to unveil plans to boost Kansas tourism.
He said if he doesn’t sign the bill, layoff notices will soon start going out to teachers. The Supreme Court decision that forced lawmakers to add more money to address inequities in funding between school districts specifies the Legislature and governor must act by July 1 or face a freeze on property tax revenue that partially funds schools.
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The Legislature passed a bill to address the equity issue Sunday night – two days past the scheduled end of the regular annual session and one day after a heated marathon debate stretched into the wee hours of Sunday morning.
“They did some excellent work on getting more money into the classroom and more money for taxpayer relief,” Brownback said. “It’s about, I think, $78 million going into classrooms, $73 million for property tax relief.”
He said he thinks that adequately addresses the court order on equalization.
However, Brownback wouldn’t say what he thinks of the provision designed to strip veteran teachers of the right to be informed of the reason if they are fired and to a hearing process to challenge firings.
Legislators added that provision to the finance bill to attract votes from conservative Republicans, who say tenure rights protect the jobs of incompetent teachers at the expense of children in their classrooms.
Brownback wouldn’t say whether he agreed with those legislators.
“I don’t have the bill yet to look at and examine the bill what all’s in the language of it, and we will,” he said. “I’m just saying our time frames are tight and the money issue is critical.”
Although Brownback was not a publicly visible presence during the lengthy weekend debate, he said he maintained contact with legislators working on the bill.
“Legislative leaders were looking at it and saying this (the tenure provision) was something that was needed to get the bill on through the process,” Brownback said.
He also said the effect of the tenure provision may not be as drastic as public school teachers – who packed the Capitol galleries in opposition throughout the debate – think it is.
“Some people are having differing opinions about its impact, whether it’s that significant of an impact, or if a number of local school districts already provide tenure, so there’s an analysis going on,” Brownback said.
He said he’s unsure whether he could veto that part of the bill by itself and let the remaining financial provisions take effect.
“Line-item veto normally only applies to appropriations,” Brownback said. “It’s an appropriations bill, but the language itself is not an appropriation.”
Brownback, an attorney, said he will consult with the administration’s lawyers to determine what his options are.
Later Wednesday, Brownback held a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 372.
The new law allows employers to reduce employees’ work hours to avoid layoffs, while allowing the workers whose hours are reduced to receive partial unemployment benefit payments, Brownback said.
Brownback signed the bill at Envision, a nonprofit company in Wichita that provides employment for people who are blind or low-vision.