Kansas teachers vow to fight for rights

School Funding Fight

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Leaders of the largest Kansas teachers’ union vowed Tuesday to fight through November’s elections against the Legislature’s vote to eliminate tenure.

The provisions were added to a school funding bill adopted Sunday by legislators that increases state funding for public schools by more than $129 million. The funding increase was made to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last month that ordered the state to increase funding to poor school districts. The measure is now on Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk.

The tenure provisions are similar to language that has been introduced or adopted across the country in recent years, including North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado.

Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, said that ending tenure would limit teachers’ ability to advocate for their students’ best interests. The union also believes depriving teachers of the administrative due process provided by tenure puts their jobs in jeopardy.

Desetti said while there had been hostility in the air toward teachers in recent years there was no indication that the tenure issue was coming until it was sprung on the Senate floor during debate of the funding bill.

“I think it has become much more common in recent years,” he said. “This is political retribution by people who believe they have an unfettered right to run roughshod over people who disagree with them.”

Proponents of the change included conservative Republicans and the group Americans for Prosperity. They argued the move would give local school boards and administrators more power to remove underperforming teachers and would improve the quality of public education.

Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Grandview Plaza Republican, said during the weekend debate that when he was in the military people who didn’t meet the performance standard were gone, not allowed to linger and bring down the quality of the organization.

“There’s no reason for tenure. There is no reason to have any protected class in this state or in this country,” he said.

Jeff Glendening, state director for American for Prosperity, said a number of Kansans were tired of “writing a blank check” to schools based on a court ruling and this time sought to make policy changes to demand accountability.

“What we want to see is our tax dollars to go to schools that are effective. And for our classrooms to be effective, you have to have effective teachers,” he said.

Glendening said his group had heard from school board members and superintendents who have sought more authority to remove underperforming teachers without going through a lengthy due process proceeding.

“You want to have the best people in that job. They want to have good schools and produce students who are ready for the real world,” he said.

The legislation has the backing of the national Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group pushing for more choice for parents through various policy changes. Much of the legislation is patterned off what was accomplished by Republican Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is the chairman of the nonprofit organization.

The group issued statements supporting what Kansas approved late Sunday, calling them “game-changing” measures to give students a chance to succeed in the classroom.

“These new policies passed by the Kansas legislature put students at the center of learning,” said CEO Patricia Levesque. “More Kansas students will now have this opportunity, and high school leaders will have greater ability to hire the people that meet those local needs.”

Desetti said KNEA members will continue to press their concerns leading up to the November election, when Brownback and the entire Kansas House are on the ballot. KNEA officials are also looking at legal options to challenge the law or any dismissal of teachers without due process.

“I think there end goal is to just end public education. That’s their desire,” Desetti said. “They aren’t going to get there without a fight. We’re going to stand up for public schools and the children they serve.”

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