Kansas senate bill eliminates tenure for public school teachers

Kansas’ lawmakers approved a bill that would increase funding to poorer school districts, but would also eliminate tenure for public school teachers in Kansas. 

The bill was created in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s order in March to increase aid to poorer school districts. The House voted 63-57 on April 6 and the Senate already backed the bill with a 22-16 vote. The bill is now waiting to be considered by Governor Sam Brownback.

“[The Bill is] not unexpected,” said Mark Peterson, professor of political science. “The legislature is not happy with public education. What the legislature is interested in is demonstrating that teachers need to be worried about causing a political ruckus and irritating the legislature.”

Equality Kansas, a gay rights advocacy group, has lobbied against ending tenure. They argue that if tenure is eliminated, then public school teachers could be fired for being gay or lesbian. Under the current laws, after a teacher has spent three years in his or her position, if he or she is facing dismissal then he or she must be provided with the reason in writing. The teacher has the right to challenge the decision and have the case reviewed by a hearing officer. The school funding bill would eliminate these rights. 

Another criticism of the bill is that with tenure eliminated for public school teachers in Kansas, prospective public school teachers may choose not to seek employment in Kansas. Peterson says that he was concerned that the elimination of tenure would influence intelligent individuals who should teach to avoid teaching altogether to avoid the issue. 

“I would consider teaching in another state,” said Mario Garcia, a junior art and education major. “It’s more promising.”

The Kansas National Education Association is critical of the legislature’s attempt to eliminate tenure. The group has released a statement urging concerned individuals to contact Brownback and urge him to veto the bill. The KNEA says the bill diminishes teachers’ abilities to advocate in the interest of their students without fear of retaliation. 

“While I am respectful of the concern on the part of the legislature about the quality of education, I don’t believe that this is a solution to a perceived problem of quality,” said Donna LaLonde, the interim chair of the education department at Washburn. 

LaLonde says she supports the KNEA’s statement about the bill. She encourages anyone who is looking for information on the issue to read the KNEA’s statement to the public. 

“I regret the fact that the public and our policy makers and a lot of people have so drastically changed their minds about what the purpose and utility of education is,” said Peterson. 

The bill was originally drafted to satisfy the demands of the Kansas Supreme Court, which declared that the funding disparities violated the state constitution in March. The decision requires the legislature to close the gap in funding by an estimated $129 million. If the legislature fails to close the gap by July 1, then a panel of three district court judges will decide how to do it without their input.