Kansas Supreme Court Hears Teacher Job Protection Arguments

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Two years ago, Kansas lawmakers took away teachers’ job protection, but this week the Kansas Supreme Court reviewed the legislation to determine whether the state constitution was violated when the action was handed down.

The 20,000 member Kansas National Education Association believes that the Kansas Legislature overstepped its authority when it created a provision in the 2014 school finance bill that stripped teachers of tenure, according to Bryan Lowry of The Wichita Eagle.

The “one-subject rule” was broken, says State Solicitor General Stephen McAllister, when lawmakers passed an education measure rather than an appropriations bill, even though the provisions were all related to education.

Although bills include funding, that “does not make them necessarily appropriations bills,” McAllister said. He said the starting point for the court should be “what does the Legislature say it is.”

A KNEA’s parent union attorney, Jason Walta, said:

“this argument gives lawmakers “carte blanche to define the subject of the bill … regardless of the content” and “threatens to reduce the one-subject rule to a game.”

Last year, the case was dismissed by a Shawnee County judge who found the bill did not violate the one-subject rule, and that KNEA could not prove injury. That is when KNEA appealed and pushed their complaint up to the Kansas Supreme Court.

If a teacher worked for over three years, he or she would be given a hearing before they were fired. This procedure was valid two years ago, but the due process rule was eliminated in 2014. Retired Topeka Public School teacher Chris Huntsman said that when she was teaching she felt that if she spoke her mind she was putting herself in jeopardy of being fired.

If officials unfairly wanted to terminate her, she said, she could have been fired. She adds that due process is the only barrier against being unjustly terminated.

But legislators argued the due process that was in effect in the past made it difficult to fire teachers who were not competent. However, KNEA again pointed to the one-subject rule. The statute, they rejoined, was a funding bill, not a due process measure, says Harrison Drake, reporting for KSNT-TV.

David Shauner, KNEA’s general counsel, added there was never a hearing on the due process resolution. He said this was “classic log-rolling.” The legislators who support the policy change say removing the state mandate has made local control increase and has put the issue in the purview of local school boards. Bryan Lowry of The Wichita Eagle quotes House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell), who stated:

“[S]chool districts should have the local authority to negotiate tenure, because bad teachers should not be in classrooms.”

Shauner added that the union is representing teachers in six other cases that are pending, and included in this group is a suit to be filed in Sedgwick County this week. He also made it clear that teachers who had earned tenure before the law change would not lose that protection.

Wichita, the largest district in the state, continues to ensure administrative hearings take place for its teachers since the law was altered.

Friday
09 16, 2016
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