by Mary Rupert
A school finance bill that passed the Legislature on Sunday increases school funding by $73 million, but it did not receive the support of Wyandotte County legislators because of several of its provisions, including eliminating due process for teachers.
Wyandotte County legislators are concerned about a provision in the school finance bill passed Sunday with 63 votes by the state Legislature that strips due process rights from teachers.
The Kansas Supreme Court had ordered the Legislature to provide more equitable funding to school districts.
Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-34th Dist., voted against the final school finance bill, and said as far as she is concerned, Kansas has changed from the “heartland” to the “heartless.”
Other Wyandotte County legislators and Democrats in general voted against the final bill.
The bill included a $14 increase per student in state aid. Rep. Winn said final figures on what the school finance bill would mean to Wyandotte County were not available yet, but some were estimating it as an additional $7 million for the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools. There is a provision allowing school districts to raise additional funds through increasing local property taxes, also.
“Due process rights are basic protection for all teachers, and they (the new provisions passed) do not solve the problem of bad teachers,” Rep. Winn, a college professor, said. “I personally am just appalled at the Kansas Legislature.”
The due process provision was tried last year by conservatives but failed then. It is considered to be an anti-teacher and anti-Kansas National Education Association provision.
Rep. Winn said under existing law, it is already possible to dismiss bad teachers if the administrations are doing their jobs and documenting bad behavior.
If teachers can be fired at will, without stating a cause, it can lead to favoritism, unilateral contracts, destroying public education and the KNEA, she believes.
Under the bill that was passed, teachers will not be able to request a hearing from the school’s administration. It is unknown if this will increase the workload on the court system, however, as teachers still will be able to sue if they are terminated.
While the bill includes provisions for property tax relief, it also allows school districts to raise local property taxes.
“In my opinion it did not solve the issue of equity by allowing school districts to continue to raise taxes, and those property-poor districts have to make a decision, ‘Do I raise taxes to keep up?’” she said.
The part of the school finance bill allowing districts to raise the local option budget, a local property tax on residents, is expected to be popular in Johnson County, where the public generally is in favor of it, according to Rep. Winn. Then, the school districts in Wyandotte County may face the question of whether to raise property taxes in a poorer area in order to retain experienced teachers and keep up with the salaries being offered by Johnson County districts.
Rep. Winn views the due process provision that was passed as not only anti-teacher, but also anti-female, because teachers are predominantly female and many of them are heads of households who bring in valuable income.
“Who’s next? Higher education, firefighters and police — until they make Kansas like Wisconsin,” Rep. Winn remarked. “Due process rights are the key to all types of employment; when the criteria is classroom performance, there are times when personal vendettas are used to do harm.”
Besides the due process provision, the school finance bill that passed included a provision that would loosen teacher licensing when hiring people with experience in math, science and technical education. It also contained a provision allowing a corporation to make tax-deductible contributions to scholarship funds for private school children who are from low-income backgrounds or who are special needs students.
The final version threw out a property tax relief clause for parents who send children to private schools or home-school them.
Rep. Winn took issue with the process of the last-minute add-ons to the school finance bill.
She said there should have been hearings and a full discussion on these provisions in January in the Education Committee, instead of the last-minute deal-making on them in conference. Very little debate was held on these topics this weekend, once the minimum 63-vote majority was acquired.
“We never had hearings in the Education Committee on the property tax rebate for home school or private school,” she said. “They did not want to shine light on the inequities of these types of policy positions.”