Eagle editorial: School-finance bill disrespects teachers

04/16/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Since the school-finance bill that eroded teacher rights passed both chambers of the Legislature on April 6, some GOP leaders have argued that provision doesn’t do what it does. Did they know what they were voting for or not? Either way, that’s poor lawmaking worthy of embarrassment as well as a veto.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said on Facebook last week that “the bill does not eliminate due-process rights for teachers” and “ensures that any notification of a nonrenewal of contract will continue to list the reasons for that decision.”

But days later, after research and inquiries by The Eagle’s Dion Lefler, Merrick’s office sent a memo to Republican lawmakers conceding that districts were “no longer required to document the specific reasons for the termination.” Oops.

Merrick also has emphasized that teachers still can challenge their termination if they think they were fired for exercising a constitutional right. But in 1957 the Kansas Supreme Court said the state had a duty “to protect competent and worthy instructors and other members of the teaching profession against unjust dismissal of any kind – political, religious or personal, and secure for them teaching conditions which will encourage their growth in the full practice of their profession, unharried by constant pressure and fear.” It’s that greater degree of protection that the Legislature just took away, which is why teachers feel vulnerable as well as disrespected. Saying that districts still could agree to due-process rights via contract negotiation is no guarantee that they will.

The amendment eliminating due-process rights for K-12 teachers was necessary to assure passage of the larger school-funding bill, according to some conservatives. If so, you’d expect proponents at least to be clear on what the provision did, both before and after the vote. No doubt committee hearings would have helped, but lawmakers skipped that step.

The rush job of a bill has riled up many more Kansans than just public school teachers for multiple reasons, with no guarantee that it will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court’s narrow order to restore equalization funding between wealthy and poor school districts.

And it’s been weird to watch Gov. Sam Brownback’s contradictory responses to the bill. Ads linked to his re-election campaign have applauded the bill’s passage and implied he’s all for it. In Emporia on Monday morning he said he would sign the bill. Yet during a Monday afternoon appearance at Wichita State University he said he would consider vetoing the entire bill because of the tenure provision, and also said he was not ready to say whether he would veto or sign the bill.

Unfortunately, a veto seems unlikely, as does the prospect of a follow-up bill undoing the harmful anti-teacher provision.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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