We are experiencing a legislative session defined by continuous and carefully coordinated attacks on public education. Public education as a whole, including administrators, teachers, support staff, patrons, and certainly students are being blamed and shamed by hyper-partisan Kansas politicians. What has occurred so far this year? Here is a quick rundown, with details to follow:
The attacks on public schools, public school employees, and public school leaders have been relentless and this week and next, it’s all coming to a head.
HB 2309 – Micro-managing civics teaching and a high stakes test
House Bill 2309 which has passed the full House and will have a hearing next week in the Senate Education Committee is an example of the legislature usurping the state board of education’s authority over issues of curriculum and assessment. This bill requires every high school student pass a civics assessment (likely the U.S. citizenship test) in order to graduate from high school. The fact every student must pass courses in civics, government, and history is not enough for some legislators who have decided our kids know nothing about civics. Even more pathetic is the fact the citizenship test is an assessment of rote memorization of facts. We recently took it and found ourselves asking questions that have nothing to do with civics including, “What ocean is on the west coast of the United States?” and “Where is the Statue of Liberty?” Maybe we should just let our trained social studies teachers who have a deep understanding of the Kansas standards actually teach.
They loved “Local Control” until it meant local boards might make decisions they don’t like
You remember in the special session when Kansas Republicans stripped Gov. Laura Kelly of the authority to issue statewide orders to control the spread of disease? Back then, they said decisions are best left to local units of government who know local needs and are in touch with local people. Now it seems some local school boards, working with county health professionals, made decisions about remote, hybrid, and in-person learning that Kansas Republicans don’t agree with. Hence, SB 235, which mandates every school district offer full-time, in-person instruction to any student who wants it. The bill, as written, would have never permitted a school board to move to remote or hybrid learning, no matter what the circumstances. Say a tornado destroyed your high school; you would be required to offer full-time, in-person instruction to any student who wanted it. A House committee has since changed the bill so it applies to the current school year only. It should reach the House floor next week.
Digging holes and diverting money: The school finance proposals
Both chambers are looking at cutting state funding for public schools and diverting federal COVID relief funds from dealing with issues of COVID to filling the holes. No one is absolutely certain the federal government will allow this; the feds have been very clear on not using the relief funds to supplant funding for ongoing state programs. However, that hasn’t stopped the budget writers from dreaming. Legislators did this some years ago when federal relief came to Kansas during the Great Recession. The end result was a massive budget hole when the temporary federal funding ran out and school finance wound up once again before the Kansas Supreme Court.
Private schools must be giddy with anticipation
A number of years ago, legislators created the tuition tax credit private school scholarship program, arguing it was needed to help poor, struggling students escape failing public schools. Since its creation, anti-public education forces in the legislature have chipped away at that intent, working hard to give private schools more access to high achieving students. Enter HB 2068 in the 2021 session picture. This bill sweeps away any pretense of helping struggling students and will allow private schools to cherry pick the highest achieving, low-income students or the most athletically talented, low-income students from any public school in the state. Under the changes in this bill, any free or reduced lunch student in any public school can qualify for a “scholarship” or voucher to go to a private school. So much for those “struggling students.”
Then, because HB 2068 apparently doesn’t go far enough, we have HB 2119. This bill is a full-blown voucher scheme under which nearly every student in public school would be eligible for a voucher to go to private schools. This bill just funnels state funding into a personal account for parents to use to send their child to private schools. And there are very few limitations on who qualifies. No, you don’t need to be in poverty. You don’t need to be struggling academically. The only kids who might have trouble getting this one are high achieving, high-income students who never miss a day of school and are well-balanced mentally, socially, and academically. The House K-12 Education Budget Committee loaded this bill up with the other voucher bill, funding cuts for public education, and a host of other bad ideas.
We can’t trust them to make wise decisions about alcohol or tobacco or using a cell phone in a car, but sure, let them carry guns on our college campuses.
Yes, in Kansas, individuals under the age of 21 can’t buy alcohol and we have legislation this year to raise the age for sale and possession of tobacco products to 21. We also have legislation to prohibit those under 21 from using a cell phone in a car, all because we believe they are not mature enough to make wise decisions about such things. But at the same time, the Kansas House has passed and the Senate is considering HB 2058, a bill that will let 18 to 20 year olds carry concealed firearms on our college campuses. The bill started out as a concealed carry permit reciprocity bill so permit holders from one state could carry in Kansas and vice versa. However, the House amended it to create a concealed carry permit for 18 to 20 year olds. And since Kansas tech college, community colleges, and universities cannot prohibit concealed carry unless they first provide security at every entrance to every building, this means essentially every student on a post secondary campus will be able to go to class with a concealed handgun. What could go wrong?
Question: What’s more important? School sports or marginalization and risk of suicide?
Answer: School sports, if legislators have their way. What do we know about LGBTQ students and transgender students in particular? They account for far too many youth suicides. To be very clear, the number one issue facing educators when it comes to LGBTQ students is how we can best support their social/emotional, and mental health needs through inclusion and understanding. But now we have SB 208, a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from participating in school sports programs. The language in the bill lays out all the reasons that boys are better than girls in everything physical. The argument brought by the proponents was that transgender girls would win all the competitions and snatch up all the college scholarships. The Kansas State High School Activities Association has indicated there are five transgender girls participating in girls sports in Kansas today (and they are not among the champions). The bill does not marginalize transgender boys – they can join any boy’s team they want. Legislating the marginalization of these students simply empowers discrimination and denies opportunity. The end result of this legislation will be to put more youth at risk of mental health problems and even suicide. We should spend more of our time supporting all our kids, not seeking ways to marginalize and shun some of them.
Some Kansas legislators are just tired of teachers who won’t stay in their place, do what they’re told regardless of the impact on students, and keep their mouths shut.
This is why they have worked so hard over the years to slash teacher rights and crush teacher unions. They try it every way they can and it started in earnest in 2014 when the legislature stripped teachers of due process rights. They were sure teachers would sheepishly close their mouths and stop demanding good wages or health benefits or working conditions. With the unions still in existence, legislators tried a new strategy: Tell teachers they don’t need to join a union for liability coverage by giving them a little liability policy. They failed to realize that while the liability policy is nice, it’s not why teachers join their professional organization. Next plan: Make it as hard as possible to pay your dues by taking away your right to use payroll deduction. And when they find out teachers really do like the ability to gather together to collectively bargain wages, hours, and working conditions, that’s when they create a bill like HB 2411. Under this bill, which had a hearing this week, teachers would not be permitted to choose the organization that represents them at the negotiating table. No, teachers need to be represented by an organization recognized and designated under the sole authority of their local board of education. Imagine, if you went to court only to find out your defense attorney was selected by the District Attorney!
Here is an explanation of what the Kansas Legislature is considering to destroy your right to representation via HB 2411
Adam Thomas (R-Olathe) and Republicans on the K-12 Education Budget Committee seek to deny teachers the right to choose their own representative for bargaining.
House Bill 2411, proposed by Thomas, will deny to professional educators the right to choose their representative for purposes of contract negotiations.
The first change in the law proposed by the bill says, “Professional employees shall have the right to form, join or assist professional employees’ organizations, to participate in professional negotiation with boards of education
through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of establishing, maintaining, protecting or improving terms and conditions of professional service.” You’ll see that Thomas strikes the words “through representatives of their own choosing.” Teachers can join an organization but will be denied the right to select their own representative for bargaining.
Next, new language is added: “The board of education of a school district shall have the the right to recognize and designate the professional employees’ organization with which the board conducts negotiations pursuant to this act.” Thomas gives the local board of education the sole authority to recognize and designate the organization that they will bargain with.
The bill goes on to say that “The board of education of a school district may recognize any professional employees’ organization that has requested recognition pursuant to K.S.A. 72-2221, and amendments thereto, as the exclusive representative of all the professional employees in the unit for the purpose of professional negotiations.” The key word here is may, meaning, that the local board of education is not required to recognize and designate the organization requested by the teachers, even if it is the only organization requested by the teachers, even if 100% of the teachers are members of that organization. The local board of education is empowered to choose some other organization which then becomes the exclusive representative of all the professional employees – even if none of the teachers belong to that organization.
In further sections of the bill, Thomas strikes every reference to “majority support.” He wants to make sure the local board of education would be empowered to choose an organization that does not or cannot demonstrate it has the majority support of the employees. He wants to make it certain that the local board of education can choose to recognize and designate an organization that does not represent the employees as the exclusive representative of all the professional employees.
Finally, Thomas adds language saying, “If the board of education receive a competing request for representation pursuant to the provisions of subsection (b)(2) or (b)(3), the board of education shall recognize one of the professional employees’ organizations that has requested recognition pursuant to this section as the exclusive representative of all the professional employees in the appropriate negotiating unit for the purpose of professional negotiations.” Remember, in all other sections of the bill, Thomas strikes reference to “majority support.” This means, in the case here, where two or more competing organizations seek recognition, the local board of education has total authority to choose whomever they want, regardless of support from the employees. Let’s say that two organizations seek recognition. One of them represents 90% of the employees and the other represents 10% of the employees. Since majority support is now irrelevant in the law, the local board members could choose the organization who represents only 10% of the employees and force all employees to be represented by that organization.
House Bill 2411 violates the fundamental premise of American democracy, that the majority rules. It also violates a fundamental premise of American jurisprudence by denying to a petitioner the right to select his or her own representative. Would Thomas suggest that the District Attorney should have the power to appoint your defense counsel?
The Professional Negotiations Act (PNA) has been in place for 50 years. It works. The professional employees have been selecting their own representatives for all of that time. When professional employees become dissatisfied with the representative they have chosen, they can – and some have – chosen a new representative. There are election rules in place that ensure the majority of professional employees choose their representative.
HB 2411 is intended to dismantle teacher representation in bargaining. One disgruntled employee during a challenging negotiation season can petition the local board of education to select a new representative. And just like that, the teachers in that district are stripped of their voice.
HB 2411 is un-American. It is disrespectful to professional educators.
Perhaps that is why KNEA, AFT, KASB, USA/KS, the Kansas PTA, and Game On for Kansas Schools all testified in opposition to HB 2411. The only proponent was Rep. Thomas.