TOPEKA — The state’s main teachers union panned the chair of the House Education Committee Monday, accusing him of obstructing a vote to restore due process rights for educators.
Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, canceled the meeting of the committee, where proponents of bringing back teacher tenure are pushing for a vote on House Bill 2179 to achieve that end.
The Kansas National Education Association called Aurand’s decision to cancel the meeting “nothing short of tyranny,” a characterization that the chair rejects.
“Hundreds of Kansas educators and supporters of public education joined a petition over the weekend encouraging Chairman Aurand not to subvert and dishonor the legislative process,” the KNEA said in a statement, accusing him of opting instead “for his own stated position declaring that he is unwilling to work HB 2179.”
Aurand said later Monday he had told his committee he wanted the bill’s key proponents and opponents to come up with a compromise.
“They at this time have not gotten to the point where they have language that they both could live with,” he said. “I want them to come to some sort of agreement.”
The stakeholders he was referring to include the KNEA, which supports the bill, and the Kansas Association of School Boards, which opposes it.
Aurand also argued the Legislature has a pressing education matter on its plate.
“With the overall issue of school finance above us this year, that’s my primary goal,” he said, “to get school finance done.”
Kansas lawmakers are under pressure to produce a new school funding formula before the end of this session.
“My belief was, if this bill was passed out, it would become a political football that would get used possibly to disrupt the final bill on school finance,” he said.
The KNEA’s criticism of Aurand also focused on the fact that he is a member of the Republic County USD 109 school board, suggesting he is making decisions about the legislation “not as a legislator, but as a school board member.”
Aurand brushed off this criticism, saying the Kansas Association of School Boards had encouraged him to proceed with the bill in committee.
Asked about the matter, Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the school boards association, said his organization isn’t opposed to the committee voting.
“We don’t have a problem with going through the normal process,” Tallman said, but he added that his organization is committed to attempting to reach a compromise on due process rights with the bill’s proponents.
Mark Desetti, a lobbyist with the KNEA, said later Monday that Aurand is effectively blocking any vote on the bill in its current iteration, and signaling that the KNEA must capitulate to the school boards association.
“What Aurand wants is for us to cave in,” he said.
The KNEA and the school boards association are able to reach agreement on other points, such as matters related to cost and timeline, Desetti said, but the teachers union stands by its stance that teachers should have the right to an independent and binding hearing when faced with potential dismissal.
Accusations of obstruction first erupted last week, when Aurand ended a meeting of the education committee amid a Democrat’s call for a vote.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said afterward — and reiterated on Monday — that a majority of the panel would vote to pass the bill out of committee.
“The ultraconservatives use the process to obstruct and prevent the will of the majority,” Ward said. “Not only would due process pass the committee, it would pass on the floor.”
Ward said he believes the push to reinstate due process rights could still move forward this year.
“We’re not tied down to a bill,” he said. “There’s procedural moves, there’s all kinds of things.”
Aurand brushed off claims that he is hindering the democratic process.
“I don’t think I’m obstructing anything,” he said. “In the Legislature, we have committee rules that are clear. The chairman can bring up a vote anytime. There’s also rules to pull bills out of committee. That is certainly their prerogative if they want to try that.”
The Legislature repealed what is commonly called “tenure” but formally known as “non-probationary status” in 2014. Before that, Kansas educators earned non-probationary status in their fourth year of teaching, granting them the right to due process in the face of potential dismissal.
The 2014 change sparked a storm of controversy, in part because it came with little notice and no hearings.
KNEA sued in August of that year, arguing the legislation was unconstitutional. The KNEA lost its lawsuit last month. It is continuing to pursue other legal challenges related to the due process repeal.