Second State Deals Blow To Teacher’s Union

By John Celock

Over the weekend Kansas became the second state in recent weeks to deal a political set back to the teacher’s union, by voting to repeal tenure in the state.

Following marathon late night sessions on Saturday and Sunday, the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a new school-funding plan that included the elimination of the due process tenure requirements. The approval came as members of the Kansas National Education Association jammed legislative galleries and hallways to cheer on their allies and boo their opponents. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) praised the legislation Sunday night by focusing on the funding components and not on the policy section.

“The school finance bill passed by the Kansas Legislature today fully complies with, and indeed exceeds, the requirements of the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling for funding schools and providing equity,” Brownback said in a statement.

The Kansas move comes just weeks after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a new state budget which contains extensive charter school provisions opposed by unions and New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio (D). Among the issues Cuomo and bipartisan legislative leaders instituted were allowing for charter schools to not pay rent on sharing public school space in New York City schools and to force the deBlasio administration to help and fund alternative space for charter schools that could not be housed in city schools.

The New York move came after deBlasio vetoed several charter school placements first signed off by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) last year. The New York debate became personal with charter school opponents largely targeting Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, who operates the largest charter networks in the city.

The United Federation of Teachers and deBlasio did cheer the state budget though, noting that they received increased school aid and all day Pre-K statewide. The budget though funded the Pre-K program through state funds and not a tax hike on wealthy city residents that deBlasio had sought to fund a program in the city alone.

The Kansas legislation followed a state Supreme Court ruling last month that the Legislature needed to raise capital outlay funding and state education for a more equitable funding formula. Democrats had argued for legislation that would solely address the funding issue, while Senate Republicans tacked on several policy components, including the tenure changes and the creation of an alternative certification program for new teachers.

The Senate changes quickly unleashed a political bloodbath in the Capitol with Democrats and moderate Republicans seeking the tenure reform taken out and conservatives seeking to approve the bill before lawmakers take several weeks off.

“Earlier this week we passed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support in this chamber. That bill wasn’t perfect. The bill before us tonight has some serious policy implications that didn’t make it out of the education committee,” state Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) said during the Sunday night debate. “They were denied a debate on this floor. The courts asked us to fund primary education at the highest level. The Senate is forcing us to implement policy provisions.”

Opponents, including the KNEA, charged that the bill would hurt teachers and allow for teachers to be dismissed for political reasons or for being gay. Currently Kansas law does not include sexual orientation as a protected class.

Supporters argued that the bill would allow good teachers to remain and just allow for poorly performing teachers to be dismissed. Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), during a speech in the early morning hours of Sunday, told his colleagues that a yes vote on the legislation helped students, while a no vote was helping the union. The remarks got Claeys booed by the gallery packed with union members.

Opponents of the legislation argued that teachers are working hard in Kansas but are being impacted by other factors. State Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence) drew cheers from union members when he said that poverty continues in the state and teachers are working to overcome those issues.

“There are some people in this Legislature who appreciate these teachers day in and day out,” Wilson said.