Lost in all the hullaballoo over action surrounding the massive tax increase is that the effort to take teacher due process decisions away from local school boards and put it back in the hands of state government has passed the House of Representatives.
I recently testified against the bill in the House Education Committee (the bill was not put forward for a vote in committee but added as amendment to HB 2186 on the House floor). I did so not because I’m opposed to teacher’s having due process, but because I think changing the law is unnecessary. It is not needed because, contrary to media and KNEA’s outcries, due process has not been stripped from teachers. The law was changed in 2014 to make due process a local decision – just like hiring, spending, curriculum, scheduling, facilities and virtually all other pieces of the puzzle known as public education.
When that law was passed, KNEA decried it as apocalyptic. In this response, KNEA described the law as “poisonous policy.” The teacher’s union claimed it “diminishes teachers’ ability to advocate for their students.” (I was in the classroom for 20 years and have no idea what that statement means.) They punctuated the outcry by saying Governor Brownback has a “complete lack of respect for the dedicated professionals who serve Kansas students.”
What actually was the impact of the change in the law? Have teachers been fired willy-nilly by rogue principals, superintendents and school boards? Well, according to testimony, there is no evidence that has happened. When pressed for data on the number of teachers affected by the 2014 change, KNEA was unable to provide that information to the committee. That’s not surprising, in their world, it’s all about emotion and hyperbole.
Want an example? Mark Desetti, lobbyist for KNEA, took his typical potshots at the Legislature, declaring that the elected body has been “at war” with teachers since 2010. He described teaching as a “thankless job” and fewer young people are going into teaching because of the way the Legislature is treating teachers.
During my testimony, I corrected him by informing the committee that I never felt for a single minute of my teaching career that the Legislature had ever declared “war” on me. Furthermore, the only teachers I knew who had that mentality were union activists themselves.
Let’s cut to the chase. The primary purposes of tenure and the union is protect poor teachers from being removed from the classroom and scaring all teachers into thinking their superintendent/school board can’t wait to fire them – with the union their only line of defense. All the quality teachers I knew were also against tenure because they see the negative impact ineffective teachers have on student learning. As House Education Committee Chairman Clay Araund stated, the problem with the law prior to 2014 is that school board members felt it was too difficult to discipline inadequate teachers.
An interesting side note of committee proceedings is that Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) lobbyist Mark Tallman also testified against the bill, a departure from the usual lock-step agreement on issues from all in the education establishment. It was such a shock to committee member Melissa Rooker that she described it as feeling “like my children are fighting.”
If I were a betting man, I would wager that the bill will become law and teacher due process once again will be taken away from local control to become a state responsibility. The union will laud its passage as a single step in the right direction, but warn that there must be constant vigilance (code for demanding more money to education).
There will be no substantive impact when the law passes. No outstanding teacher’s career will be saved from the scourge of a reckless, vindictive school administrator, but the needs of students will be put behind protection for adults who don’t need it. This serves as a disturbing reminder that in Kansas, education’s top priority is for the adults in the system and secondarily for the students who depend on a quality education for their future.