Kansas Teachers Battle Over Brownback Plan To Eliminate Tenure

Kansas governor Sam Brownback has signed a school funding bill that will restore aid to poor school districts, but will end the teacher tenure program.  This in response to a ruling from the state’s supreme court calling for a $129 million increase for the new school year according to KAKE.com via the Associated Press.  The bill reactivates aid to poor districts for funding operations and capital improvements.

The bill also will end the teacher tenure process and addresses additional spending for higher education.  The governor applauded the measure because of the property tax relief to schools and the additional dollars for education.

The largest Kansas teachers’ union, however, was not pleased with the state’s ending of tenure rights.  The question is whether the state has the authority to take away a property right that currently tenured teachers have already earned.  Establishing the fact that tenure protection is a property right also will be up for debate.

Writing for Lawrence Journal-World, Peter Hancock adds that this objection will only benefit teachers who are already tenured.  School board president Rick Ingram, said:

“I think it would be safe to say they’re concerned. It’s also safe to say you don’t improve teaching by demoralizing teachers, and you don’t attract teachers to teach in Kansas by removing tenure. I’m sure we will hear more in the future.”

The original law governing the firing of teachers, passed in 1957, stated that a teacher who had been employed in a school for three or more years was entitled to due process with an independent hearing officer before he or she could be summarily fired.  The law applied to contract non-renewal as well.  Supporters of the bill said that it would allow for more local control by districts to use tenure as a benefit to keep effective teachers on their faculties.

Kansas Senator Jeff King (R-Independence) was not surprised by the challenge, and cited a state supreme court case in which the court said that tenure could have negative effects on student success.  The basis, said the court, was that districts were hesitant to even start the long and arduous process of firing a teacher who was not performing well, so students were stuck with ineffective teachers.  King said that in a recent decision by the Kansas Supreme Court, it was concluded that school financing should be based on the quality of student outcomes.  King asked if student outcomes are or are not based on highly effective teachers.

In response to a state law intended to take away teachers’ tenure in North Carolina, a Guilford judge ruled that the Guilford district and the Durham County districts do not have to comply.  These two districts had opposed the law based on the fact that it violates the state constitution.  The law required that the top 25% of teachers be offered $500 annual salary increases on a new four-year contract to give up their “career status ” protections.

Stephanie Banchero, writing for The Wall Street Journal, reports that this move is simply a reprieve.  Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R) says that the legislative leaders will seek to appeal Judge Doughton’s injunction.

Because if low pay and the legislature’s attacks on teachers, North Carolina has experienced unprecedented resignations among veteran teachers. The legislature, for example, abolished the respected five-year NC Teaching Fellows program while allotting $5 million to TFA (Teach for America).