Democrat Proposes Teacher Tenure/Due Process Restoration Bill

By John Celock

A Democratic legislator in Kansas has proposed the restoration of statewide due process rights for teachers in the state.

Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) announced Tuesday morning that he would introduce the legislation, which would entitle public school teachers in the state to contest decisions to fire them. Last year, lawmakers passed legislation to allow local school districts to opt out of the due process clause. The due process provision was tucked into a school funding bill and has been opposed by the state’s teachers union.

“Last year the policy in the education bill passed by one vote,” Whipple told The Celock Report. “The main hang up from some of my more conservative friends is we will not allow teachers the right to defend themselves if they are accused of wrong doing.”

Whipple said teacher due process needed to be restored to allow teachers to be treated as “professionals.” Under the change that was adopted last year and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback (R), local school districts could opt out of the due process provisions during contract negotiations. Several local districts have already opted out of due process.

Whipple said that statewide protections are needed because in smaller school districts around the state where the presence of the Kansas National Education Association may not be as strong. As a right to work state, Kansas teachers do not need to opt into the teachers union, but are covered by the contract negotiated by the KNEA.

Whipple noted that Wichita has seen more teachers join the KNEA since the due process law was enacted last year. He said the large teachers union presence in his city has protected teachers.

“If you have a large amount school district you can negotiate it,” he said. “It can be a problem in a smaller school district without a large union presence.”

Whipple is in the process of gathering co-sponsors for the bill and said that he has received backing from moderate Republicans in the House. Moderate Republicans have long been at odds with conservative Republicans in the House on education funding and policy.

KNEA spokesman Marcus Baltzell told The Celock Report that the union is “glad” that Whipple is introducing the due process bill. He said that due process is needed to prevent teachers from being unfairly dismissed and provided an impartial hearing. He noted that school superintendents and administrators opposed the change last year.

“Due process gives us the ability to have a voice to advocate for our students,” Baltzell said. “It seems sensible that when the number of students in poverty in Kansas is growing in every district, having that voice in the classroom for all students makes sense. We are for it.”

Whipple said that one of the issues that drove him on was to provide protections that he said are available in the private sector.

“Every Fortune 500 company that I know of has a process in place to tell you why you are being dismissed. They have HR departments,” he said. ”We should treat people like they are in the private sector. I’ve worked in the private sector and if I was being disciplined I would want to be told why.”

Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), a leading KNEA critic, questioned why Whipple’s bill is needed. He said that the decisions can easily be made at the local level.

“Elected school boards at the local level can make those determinations through the contract negotiation process,” Claeys told The Celock Report.

Claeys also noted that Brownback’s reelection last year, along with state House Republicans expanding their majority in the 2014 election shows that voters are behind the actions taken last year.

“This doesn’t restore due process, it creates a statewide tenure mandate that voters rejected last year,” Claeys said.

Whipple rejected Claeys’ arguments that the 2014 election means Kansans signed off on the due process law.

“I don’t believe that the governor getting reelected means that we should not treat our teachers professionally when they are being accused of wrong doing,” Whipple said.

Claeys has introduced bills this year that would allow teachers to negotiate their own contracts with local school districts, along with mandating that all contracts negotiations and meetings between schools districts and unions be conducted in public.

Whipple said that he believes his bill will have a shot if it makes it to the House floor.

“Out of 125 legislators in the House, the educational funding bill passed by one vote. Almost as many Republicans voted against it as Democrats,” he said. “Talking to my friends on the other side, this was one of the main sticking points. I believe if treating teachers fairly and as professionals gets to the floor it will pass.”