House sends teacher tenure, anti-bullying bills to Senate

? The Kansas House gave final passage Thursday to two education bills, including one that restores teacher tenure rights, also known as due process rights, which lawmakers repealed several years ago.

House Bill 2757 to restore tenure rights represented one of the few issues in the Legislature that divided the education community, with the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, strongly supporting it while the Kansas Association of School Boards opposed it.

The law had been on the books for decades before its repeal in 2014. It provides that veteran teachers, generally those with at least three years of experience in a school district, are entitled to a due process hearing before an independent hearing officer before they can be summarily fired or not renewed for a subsequent year.

It does not apply to teachers whose licenses are revoked by the Kansas State Board of Education due to criminal convictions or other misconduct.

Supporters of the bill said it is needed to make sure teachers are treated fairly in the workplace and to attract and retain teachers in the profession, which is facing a shortage.

Opponents, however, argued for “local control,” saying local boards of education should be allowed to establish their own hiring and firing policies.

The bill passed by a vote of 73-48. All members of the Douglas County delegation voted yes.

The House also passed House Bill 2758 requiring school districts to post their anti-bullying policies prominently on their websites, including procedures for reporting those incidents and their policies for training staff and students on the policies, and penalties for people who engage in bullying, harassment or cyber-bullying.

Although the state has mandated school districts to develop such policies since 2007, Tom Witt, a lobbyist for the group Equality Kansas, said most districts either have not complied with the law or make it difficult for the public to know how to report such cases.

That bill passed, 120-1. Rep. Michael Houser, R-Columbus, cast the lone no vote, saying he viewed it as an “unfunded mandate” on school districts.

Both bills now move to the Kansas Senate.