Recruitment & Retention

Kansas Supreme Court Weighs Tenure Repeal Law

By Emmanuel Felton — September 13, 2016 2 min read
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The Kansas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that will determine whether a 2014 law stripping the state’s teachers of tenure protections is constitutional. The Kansas National Education Association is challenging the law on technical grounds, contending that the legislature passed the measure in a manner that evaded proper legislative review by attaching it to an omnibus education appropriations bill, House Bill 2506.

As Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa reported back in 2014, the legislature was in a tight spot due to another Kansas Supreme Court case, Gannon v. Kansas. In the waning days of the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers were facing a daunting deadline. If they didn’t pass a new funding bill that addressed the school-funding inequalities that the justices found in Gannon, the Supreme Court was threatening to close all of the state’s schools.

But HB2506 didn’t just include an extra $129 million in funding; it also repealed the state’s nearly 60- year-old due process guarantees for teachers and lowered licensing requirements for science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers, as Stephen Sawchuk reported.

“In enacting HB 2506, the Legislature ‘logrolled’ the Teacher Dismissal Provisions into an appropriations bill, thereby evading the legislative process and debate that would have taken place had those provisions been made to stand on their own in separate legislation,” the state’s teachers union contends in court filings. “Indeed, the last-minute insertion of the Teacher Dismissal Provisions into the bill short-circuited the normal legislative processes altogether, precluding any considered debate or deliberation on the provisions.”

The KNEA argues that HB 2506 violates the state constitution’s “one subject rule,” which means that legislation may only deal with one main issue. A judge in district court rejected that argument last year and sided with the state.

Proponents of the legislation argue that HB 2506 didn’t prohibit individual districts from writing due-process provisions into their collective bargaining agreements. The majority of the state’s districts, however, have since decided to end teacher due process protections, reports The Wichita Eagle.

Previously, Kansas’s teachers were granted due-process rights after three years in the classroom. Those rights entitled veteran teachers to a hearing if their district moved to fire them.

The legislature is now also considering repealing tenure protections for teachers at the state’s community and technical colleges, reports The Topeka Capital-Journal.

In addition to this case, the KNEA is behind several lawsuits across the state contending that the 2014 bill’s retroactive nature is unconstitutional. Earlier this summer, that line of argument won out in a similarly high-profile suit in North Carolina.

These court battles are part of a larger national fight over whether teacher job-protections laws, as opponents argue, keep inept teachers in the classroom thus hurting students. Tenure opponents suffered a major setback earlier this summer, when a California appeals court reversed a trial court decision in the closely watched Vergara case that found that tenure protections were indeed shielding bad educators from dismissal. The appeals court’s decision was recently upheld by the state’s supreme court.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.