Teacher protests follow Brownback
Hays ? Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday headed west to discuss some of his accomplishments during the 2014 legislative session and was met with protests by teachers who are upset that he signed into law the repeal of teacher tenure.
Brownback was on the road after having earlier this week approved the education legislation.
Also Wednesday, Brownback signed into law a bill that could put Kansas officials in charge of Medicare and other federally funded health programs in the state and a bill that strips cities and counties of the power to regulate firearms and nullifies existing local gun ordinances. House Bill 2578 will also ensure that gun owners can openly carry their firearms across the state, though local officials still could prohibit open carrying in public buildings.
Outside the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, where Brownback had a ceremonial signing for a bill designating official state dinosaur fossils, about 25 teachers and retired teachers gathered in protest of the tenure repeal provision.
As Brownback got out of his vehicle, he waved at the group and said, “Thanks for what you do. Take care.” He then headed inside the museum.
One of those protesting was Kim Schneweis, a teacher at Hays Middle School.
“We don’t want to protect bad teachers,” Schneweis said. “But we don’t want good teachers to work in fear or second guess helping a student for fear of their career.” She said now when a teacher confronts administrators to get programs to help students they could be jeopardizing their jobs.
Brownback and legislative Republicans passed a school finance bill that is meant to address a Kansas Supreme Court order to increase funding to poor districts. The measure also includes controversial education policy changes that bypassed the normal legislative process, including the repeal of teacher tenure.
Brownback has defended the repeal, saying now it leaves up to local school districts whether to grant teachers job protections.
“It makes it a local issue and I think that’s a good place for it to be,” he said.
Lesley Schonthaler, who retired last year after 34 years in teaching, said she was a registered Republican until a few months ago and believes Brownback’s repeal of tenure will hurt him during his reelection campaign. “The game will be on in November. I don’t think people will forget,” she said.
After his visit to the Sternberg Museum, Brownback was scheduled to go to Fort Hays State University to discuss the part of the school finance bill that provides higher education funding, including restoration of much of the funding he cut last year, and some enhancements for universities.
But Brownback canceled his appearance because of threatening weather. He got back on his plane to Topeka.
In his place, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer spoke at FHSU and praised the school finance bill, saying it will provide the needed funds to address the court ruling and provide property tax relief.
Colyer walked past about 40 teachers protesting the tenure repeal At FHSU.
Health care compact
Earlier Wednesday, Brownback signed the bill allowing Kansas to join an interstate compact in which the states would continue to receive federal health care dollars, and each state could administer the programs.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, AARP and other health care groups had urged Brownback to veto the health care compact bill, saying the measure could jeopardize Medicare benefits to seniors because those federal dollars would be competing with other state budget pressures.
In signing the bill, Brownback issued a statement saying it would protect Medicare from the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare after President Barack Obama.
“Obamacare is the most serious attack on Medicare and seniors since the program’s inception. By cutting $700 million out of Medicare, President Obama and his allies made a policy statement that ideology is more important than protecting seniors,” Brownback said.
Republican opponents of the ACA have said the federal reform law took $700 million from Medicare.
PolitiFact.com, a project of the Tampa Bay Times newspaper that fact checks statements made by politicians, said neither Obama nor the ACA cut a dollar amount from Medicare, but sought to bring down future health care costs in the program.