Kansas Legislature Passes Education Bill

The state Legislature narrowly backed a bill last night that would boost funding to poor school districts and eliminate tenure for teachers.

Teachers wearing red shirts looked on in protest as 63 House members - the minimum needed - voted in favor of the bill, while 57 voted against it.

Hours earlier, the Senate approved it with a 22-16 vote. It needed 21 votes to pass.

The bill now heads to Governor Sam Brownback, who has already released a statement praising it.

The measure is designed to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order last month which directed lawmakers to increase aid to poorer districts. It authorizes an additional $129 million dollars for districts next school year.

Conservative Senate Republicans also insisted on eliminating tenure for public school teachers.

Under existing law, after three years on the job, a teacher who’s facing dismissal must be told why in writing.

The teacher has the right to challenge the decision and have a hearing officer review the case. The bill strips teachers of those rights.

David Schauner is the general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association. He says any teacher who had earned protections should sue if a school district says those protections no longer apply.

Critics say tenure makes it difficult for administrators to fire poor or abusive teachers.

Some lawmakers, like Republican Representative Allan Rothlisberg, say schools need to be run more like private sector businesses, where people can be hired and fired more easily.

“Produce or you’re gone," Rothlisberg says. "Private sector does it. You don’t meet standards, you don’t meet goals, you’re gone. That’s the way it should be in the public sector.”

Other lawmakers said teachers can be fired under the current rules.

Democratic Senator Tom Hawk says teachers should not have to fear being removed for an unfair reason, or because they have high standards.

“Some of the very best teachers are often the toughest teachers on students," Hawk says. "And we need teachers to be tough on students. We don’t need teachers being afraid if they raise concerns about a student’s work habits having a parent pushing to have them removed.”

The measure also gives corporations up to $10 million dollars in tax credits for contributing to scholarship funds to help poor and at-risk children attend private schools.

It also allows public school districts to levy additional local property taxes to supplement their state aid.