By Kalli Smith
KU Statehouse Wire Service
TOPEKA — Multiple bills focused on restoring due process rights to teachers are circulating throughout the Statehouse this session, but some are having no success after the House Education Committee rejected its second teacher due process bill earlier this month.
“When you have no due process, like we do now, a principal can come in and tell you we’re non-renewing you or you’re fired and they don’t have to give you a reason,” Crum said. “It’s basically just up to them. No one wants to teach in a state that does this.”
According to an analysis conducted by the Kansas Commissioner of Education’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teacher Vacancies and Supply, for the 2015-2016 school year, 277 teacher positions were left vacant. Last September, the Kansas Department of Education reported that there were 90 elementary school openings and more than 80 vacancies for special education teachers.
The report also found that 28 of the 46 vacancies in the Northeast region were in Kansas City, Kansas, and of the 286 school districts surveyed, 220 reported no vacancies in 2015-16.
Marcus Baltzell, communications director for the Kansas National Education Association, said that KSNE estimates the number of teacher vacancies could be more than 1,000.
Before legislation removed due process protections in 2014, a teacher who had taught three consecutive years in a school district and whose contract was renewed for a fourth year, would qualify for due process rights.
With due process, a teacher who felt he or she were terminated without just cause was allowed to request for an impartial hearing to plead his or her case, according to Crum.
Both sides, teacher and administrator, could present arguments to a third-party mediator, who would make a final ruling. Now, teachers no longer have that option.
A 2015-16 Kansas Commissioner of Education Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teacher Vacancies and Supply reported that districts in the Southwest and South Central rural regions have the most difficulty filling teaching positions. This area also saw the most teachers move away to larger, urban areas.
Ken Weaver, co-chair of the Kansas Commissioner of Education’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teacher Vacancies and Supply report, said after reviewing the data on teacher vacancy and supply, the task force identified the four main challenges to the teacher supply dilemma: low salaries, low esteem for the teaching profession, current ongoing instability of education-related funding and policies in the Legislature and Kansas Public Employees Retirement System changes and contributions.
Weaver said the task force was then put in charge of developing immediate recommendations to be enacted from the fall of 2017 to spring of 2019, and long-term recommendations to be enacted from fall of 2019 and beyond. Of the 61 recommendations, having legislators “reinstate teacher due process” topped the list.
“The good news is that not many teachers need the due process —that’s part of working in Kansas where people by and large are honest,” Weavers said. “However, it is a tool that enables teachers to stand up to principals, or superintendents or school boards on matters of principle — that can be a good thing.”
Crum said he believes the removal of due process rights and the lack of pay increases is the driving force for the Kansas teacher shortage.
Last month, House Bill 2483 was presented to the Committee of Education. The bill would amend statutory procedures to teachers who earned their due process rights before June 30, 2014, Jason Long, senior assistant advisor on the Committee of Education said.
The bill would also reinstate the eligibility of certain school districts under the current due process, according to Long.
Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) voted no on the bill because he said he wants control over those matters to remain in local hands rather than the state government.
“They’re better suited for it and they know more about the situations.” Dove said. “When people here in the Statehouse aren’t that familiar with it.”
Last year, Crum introduced a similar bill that would have fully reinstated due process for all teachers. The bill made it past the House but died in the Senate.
“This is something that we really have to fight up here, and that is the difference between tenure and due process, because this really isn’t about tenure it’s about due process and getting that back for teachers,” Crum said.
Despite the legislation, Jenny Dunn, a high school English teacher for USD 415 in Hiawatha, said teachers in her district now have language in their contracts that still gives them access due process rights.
“ I do think it is a travesty that under the current statewide law, a veteran teacher could be without a job simply because one disgruntled parent knows someone on the board or in the community whom they convince that you are not fit for your job,” Dunn said. “Fortunately, I feel like it would take a lot more than that in our district as our administration really works with us through the evaluation process and in providing feedback to continue to help us grow as teachers.”
Matt Seimears, professor of science education at Emporia State University’s Teacher College, said the answer to what’s causing Kansas’ teacher shortage is a mystery to him, but guessed it wasn’t just not having due process rights.
“Teaching has many challenges, I know, I taught at a USD (Unified School District),” Seimears said. “I’m not sure if the data presents this as an accurate result. I have a former student that left as a teacher and went into banking due to over testing at their site.”
Baltzell said the biggest issue KNEA had with due process rights being taken away was there was no hearing done before the decision was made.
“This was just like thrown in at the last minute, strictly a partisan political move,” Baltzell said. “But the key takeaway on that night in April, is that they took away due process, and they did it without due process. There has to be hearings for a bill to become a law and the fact that there wasn’t is concerning.”
Baltzell said he didn’t know if he could give an accurate answer as to what is specifically causing a teacher shortage in the state of Kansas, but he does think due process is something that people think about when deciding where to teach.
Kalli Smith is a University of Kansas junior majoring in journalism from Hiawatha.