TOPEKA — The Kansas House cast aside contentious amendments Wednesday before endorsing legislation re-establishing employment due-process rights of public school educators repealed four years ago by anti-labor Republicans in the Legislature.
A majority in the chamber moved the bill to a final vote Thursday despite objections by a Wichita Republican who sought to include all public employees in the bill and a Belleville Republican who proposed restoration of rights once held by veteran educators and creation of a lower, second-tier set of rights for new teachers.
“Due process provides the minimum procedural requirements which each public school districts must satisfy when dismissing a teacher,” said Rep. Mary Martha Good, R-El Dorado. “Due process is not tenure. Tenure is a university-level right that provides a much higher level of job security than these K-12 due process procedures.”
In 2014, the GOP-led Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback forbid the state’s 286 public school districts from guaranteeing fired educators with at least three years of experience the option of requesting an impartial arbitrator hear evidence and issue a binding ruling. That option had been available to Kansas teachers for decades.
More than 80 Kansas school boards have independently decided to reinstate that system. The House also adopted a bill in 2017 to rekindle due-process rights statewide, but it was ignored by the Senate.
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said he objected to an attempt to usurp preferences of local school districts. To emphasize that point, he offered an amendment – rejected by the House – expanding coverage into public-sector occupations far removed from education.
“Why just teachers?” Whitmer said. “This is going to extend the public employee definition to include parole officers, corrections officers, game wardens, municipal bus drivers, public sewer and water workers, social workers, paramedics, law enforcement, police and fire employees, municipal garbage collectors, compliance officers, state forestry officers, state highway maintenance workers, Kansas Department of Agriculture inspectors and any public-sector employee who is a member or represented by an employee organization.”
Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, said Whitmer’s amendment, purportedly designed to emphasize value of local government autonomy, would have ironically placed the Legislature squarely into employer-employee relationships at city, county and state government offices across Kansas.
“This amendment, in my opinion, is demeaning to our teachers,” said Rep. Shellee Brim, R-Shawnee.
Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican and local school board member, proposed an amendment to restore due-process rights to Kansas teachers who lost it in 2014. He amendment also would have created a modified due-process system for teachers hired since then, but this second-tier approach would emphasize a school board's testimony, limit testimony by teachers and make the decision nonbinding on a district. Eventually, all 40,000 teachers in Kansas would be subject to due-process lite.
After Republicans and Democrats questioned merit Aurand's amendment, he said the base bill had a chance or being approved by the Senate and signed by GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer.
“It’s going to a drawer in the Senate,” said Aurand, who indicated the bill's advocates appeared to be engaged in little more than election-year politics. “That’s what we’re engaged in is political theater.”
Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, said she was opposed to the bill because it would help districts shield from accountability teachers who were ineffective in the classroom or allegedly guilty of sexual harassment or misconduct with students.
In response, Rep. Diana Dierks, R-Salina, objected to Williams' placement of Kansas school teachers in the same category of individuals warranting discipline or arrest for sexual impropriety.
“An absolute insult,” said Dierks, who urged peers to stand with public school educators. “Let us show them we have their backs.”
The House also gave first-round approval to House Bill 2758 requiring school districts to expand formal response to bullying that plagues classrooms. The districts would be compelled by the bill to focus particular attention to cyberbullying, said Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs.
Dove, who said he had a brother commit suicide as a consequence of bullying, said the bill mandated districts to publish cyberbullying procedures on a website and to distribute information annually to parents and guardians.
“He was bullied and later committed suicide,” Dove said of his sibling. “I am you and you are me in this situation.”