Politics & Government

Kansas teachers would get due process rights back for two years under proposal

Members of the Kansas National Education Association sit outside the Kansas House chamber in Topeka following a debate on school funding legislation in 2014.
Members of the Kansas National Education Association sit outside the Kansas House chamber in Topeka following a debate on school funding legislation in 2014. File photo

Due process rights would be restored for some teachers under a proposal offered Friday during negotiations over a new school funding formula.

Teachers who had state-mandated due process rights – also sometimes called tenure – in 2014 when lawmakers removed the protections would have them back in a plan from Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville. The new protections would expire in two years unless the Legislature renews them.

Aurand floated his proposal at the end of a day of negotiations between the House and Senate on school funding. Both chambers have passed bills that would put a new finance formula in place, but they must pass identical versions to send the bill to the governor.

Due process adds a new element to the negotiations; the issue was not included in either school finance bill. But a bill similar to Aurand’s proposal passed the House earlier this year.

Due process allows teachers the right to have an administrative hearing before they are fired. Aurand said his proposal, which he called a “thought balloon,” is an attempt to find compromise.

Aurand chairs the House Education Committee and drew fire when he effectively killed legislation earlier this year that would have reinstated due process rights. Subsequently, due process protections were offered on the House floor as an amendment to a different bill and passed.

He expressed hope the two-year limit would give the parties involved – teachers, school administrators and school boards – time to come to an agreement over due process.

“I think, legitimately, teachers that had been hired with the knowledge of due process and received it have a very, very legitimate concern of having that taken away. At the same time, moving forward, I would like to pressure those groups to get together or work out something that they can all live with ongoing so it’s not a reoccurring battle,” Aurand said.

The Kansas National Education Association, a teachers union, sued after the Legislature stripped due process rights in 2014. The organization challenged the provision eliminating the state-mandated protection for teachers on the grounds that the bill violated the one-subject rule, which prohibits legislation from covering multiple topics.

In January, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that the bill did not violate the single subject rule.

Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the KNEA, said his organization has met with others about due process in the past and would be willing to meet again. But Aurand’s proposal puts the “gun to the head of the teachers,” he said, because of the two-year time limit.

He also said he is concerned that the proposal does not include due process for teachers going forward.

“I would be troubled with a two-tiered system that has some teachers have due process protections and others are at the whim of the school board or the whim of the principal,” Desetti said.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who is one of the school finance negotiators along with Aurand, said his proposal came as a surprise.

“I’m certainly open to taking a look at that,” McGinn said.

Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, said he did not yet know what he thinks about a two-tier system. But he was open to a two-year sunset provision.

“It makes us talk about (due process), but it kind of caught me cold so I need to study it a little bit and see what I think,” Rogers said.

Negotiations will resume Saturday. Lawmakers are trying to pass a new funding formula ahead of a June 30 deadline set by the Kansas Supreme Court. The court will then determine whether the formula is constitutional.

The House plan includes a larger increase in spending on schools than the Senate plan. Negotiators have not yet addressed funding amounts.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman