Of all of the legislation passed by the current Legislature, House Bill 2506, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday, may well be the most controversial. That bill, the main purpose of which was supposed to be supplemental funding for K-12 schools in Kansas to comply with an order of the Kansas Supreme Court, also makes additional non-financial changes in Kansas education law.
Among these is the amendment of Kansas Statute 72-5438 which, until House Bill 2506 becomes law, provides that teachers (as defined in Kansas Statutes 72-5436) who have worked in Kansas school districts for three years, if they receive a notice of non-renewal or termination from their school district, are entitled to receive a list of the reasons for that action and a hearing by an “independent hearing officer” on the non-renewal or dismissal. The decision of the independent hearing officer is binding under the law. House Bill 2506 removes any individual who is required to hold a professional license in order to teach for a Kansas school district from the definition of “teacher” under Kansas Statute 72-5438 as of July 1, 2014. This amendment would deprive all K-12 public school teachers, including those who currently are covered by the statute, of the due process rights provided by the statute.
The news media have tended to say that House Bill 2506 has deprived K-12 teachers in Kansas of “tenure,” but this is somewhat misleading. Tenure usually is used to refer to the contractual job security that university professors may achieve after a number of years of employment. This form of job security often is more broadly conceived and applied than the type of due process rights that have been accorded to K-12 teachers. University tenure derives historically from 19th century German models of university governance. In my opinion, university faculty tenure is quite different from the due process rights that have been afforded to K-12 teachers in Kansas. Indeed, House Bill 2506 has no effect on the contractual tenure rights enjoyed by faculty at public universities in Kansas.
The net effect of the repeal of notification and due process rights for experienced teachers in Kansas is to deprive these teachers of their right to be notified of the reasons for dismissal or contract non-renewal and of their option to ask for and be given a hearing by an independent hearing officer. I believe that the bill does not prevent individual school districts from voluntarily offering their teachers equivalent rights by contract.
Teachers whose contracts don’t cover such rights still will have the right to go to court if they believe that their non-renewal or dismissal violates their federal civil rights. In practice, however, the cost of initiating a court proceeding, which is substantially higher than the cost for an administrative hearing, probably will deter most teachers from pursuing that option. Additionally, since school districts will not have to inform teachers of the reasons for their non-renewal or dismissal it will make proving a civil rights violation all the more difficult.
If I were to characterize House Bill 2506 I would say it is ill-advised and that its adoption without adequate discussion and public debate, let alone serious thought, is most unfortunate. Like other actions of the Kansas Legislature in recent years it is a legislative solution to a non-problem that will probably significantly erode the quality of public education in Kansas. That is something I believe many, if not most, Kansans would consider most unfortunate and surely not in the public interest.