Teachers: The Heart of Education
The fourth week of the 2023 legislative session “hit the ground running.” House K-12 Education Budget Chair Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, referenced a Wichita Eagle article as the genesis of a presentation before the Jan. 30 committee meeting called, “Teachers: The Heart of Education.”
The Wichita Eagle article can be found here.
(The reference to this article and a survey that Rep. Williams read from, citing a number of statements regarding student behavior, make it clear she wants people to believe that only student behavior in the public school system is driving teachers away from the profession while also ignoring that respect, compensation, and many other factors contribute to the growing crisis.)
The presentation was basically two public school teachers, one invited by Rep. Williams and one apparently invited by Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson. They testified about the challenges they are facing in education. Both teachers did an outstanding job. More on that is below.
The Governmental Relations team first became aware of this presentation on Jan. 26. Every Thursday, the calendar for the following legislative week is published in the official House and Senate Calendars. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but we are often unaware of the following week’s schedule until it is printed and made available to the public. This has been a long-standing process, and everyone accustomed to it makes the best of it.
That long-standing process is not a concern to us. However, there’s another long-standing dynamic of leaving KNEA and Rep. Williams’ members out when discussing matters that directly impact us. This does concern us. It is regrettable and frustrating, to say the least. We must change this and are working diligently to do so. You can help. When talking to your elected leaders about our issues, PLEASE remember to tell them that we’re not at the table and should be.
As mentioned above, both teachers did an excellent job of sincerely and honestly pointing out their own challenges in teaching.
You can hear their testimony here:
Their testimony begins at the 4:30:00 mark of the video.
Please listen. If you have thoughts, please e-mail us (email addresses below). We also encourage you to listen to the questions both teachers were asked after the presentation. There is a lot to unpack here. Both teachers are saying things that sound very familiar.
Here’s one take after sitting in on the hearing: Those of us who have been around politics for a long time can usually figure out the political stripes of an individual pretty quickly when listening to them speak. Not necessarily what political party a person may belong to, but rather whether the individual leans progressive, conservative, apolitical, or other.
After listening to both teachers tell their stories, it was fairly apparent that one was somewhat conservative, and one may have been a little more progressive. With all of the talk about division, reckless rhetoric, the loss of civility, and others, one may think that a conservative teacher and a teacher who may be left of the other would have cited vastly different issues as challenges in education. However, this was not the case.
Political operatives who benefit from political divisions or elected officials who routinely go back to their “political corners” when tackling problems could easily take the testimony given by each teacher and highlight the differences. They can cherry-pick, call plays from the national books of ideologies, vilify each other, and ultimately pass ridiculous legislation.
But there is a better way of operating. People who are serious about making a better world could easily walk out of that hearing with hope by RECOGNIZING that both teachers cited many of the same issues as challenges.
Both teachers cited salary as a problem. Low salaries, to be specific. Both teachers mentioned the profession is viewed in a bad light because of the actions and words of others. Both teachers talked about the lack of respect for the profession. Both teachers talked about student behavior as an issue. One teacher talked broadly about the lack of special education funding. The other alluded to a lack of special education funding by mentioning the lack of staff resources, particularly para-professionals, in the special education setting.
Standardized testing was a hot button for both teachers. And you may have guessed; they are not fans of the practice. One cited that students don’t take these tests seriously because they are “not for a grade.” The other teacher said the students don’t take standardized testing seriously because the tests “have no meaning for them.”
Lastly, though it may be safe to assume each teacher may have differing views on social and emotional learning, both teachers cited examples of issues where social and emotional skills could be used to help students and teachers in the classroom.
To paraphrase, one teacher talked about how common it is for teachers to help students regulate their feelings. Also, to paraphrase, the other teacher cited having to teach simple social skills to help the student function but help the teacher make it through the day.
At first, it was a little disappointing that the K-12 Education Budget Committee legislators were adhering to the dynamic mentioned above of cherry-picking and retreating to their political corners in preparation for another worn-out political battle.
As it stands, that is probably the direction we’re headed. It is the path of least resistance, and people are always hesitant to change unchecked behaviors even when counterproductive. However, one-on-one conversations with a number of the committee members where they were challenged to start with the issues both teachers cited as examples of common ground were not automatically dismissed.
The work required to do anything but play defense right now is enormous. But wouldn’t it be something if we could take a few baby steps in the direction of being on the front side of creating good policy instead of being on the backside of having to stop bad policy?
Protecting Sports Officials
For the second year in a row, the legislature heard a bill that would strengthen the penalties for assaults on extra-curricular activities officials. It’s widely seen as a bill that would protect officials who are working in sporting events but the language of the bill would likely apply to individuals who are overseeing other extra-curricular activities like debate, forensics, or even Scholars Bowl.
Much like increased penalties for the battery of a law enforcement officer exist, proponents of the bill want increased penalties for assault or battery on extra-curricular activities officials.
Current laws obviously exist that protect anyone from assault, but the authors and supporters of this legislation are citing a dramatic lack of officials due to growing belligerence towards them. They attest this legislation would be a helpful tool to recruit and retain individuals to officiate. WOW! Doesn’t this sound like a familiar dynamic?
In 2022, two KNEA members, Linda Sieck, and Leigh Anne Rogers attended the hearing to help remind the legislature this dynamic isn’t unique to the field of play. It is also a dynamic that is a huge problem in the classroom as well.
Teachers and educators are being put into dangerous situations and even getting assaulted in the classroom regularly.
As we did last year, Tim Graham presented neutral testimony from the perspective we didn’t want to enter the larger philosophical debate on crimes and punishment. But we did recognize there is a legitimate concern.
You can see Tim’s testimony here. A link was provided in the testimony for the legislators to watch Linda’s and Leigh Anne’s testimony from the previous year.
Not wanting to hijack the hearing out of respect for the authors of the bill or the proponents who had traveled to testify in favor, we kept our testimony brief and even used some personal stories to demonstrate we were fully aware of their situation. However, we did try to pivot to make it abundantly clear our crisis in the classroom is real as well.
Last year, no action beyond a hearing occurred, and this legislation “died in committee.” It’s not clear whether this year the bill will gain any traction. We do, however, recognize that a big problem exists for both extra-curricular activity officials and classroom educators alike.
We will continue to highlight this as a growing crisis for our members.
With wounds still lingering from that unfortunate early morning in 2014, the afternoon of Feb. 6 gave us another bite at the due process apple with a hearing on HB 2163. This legislation was introduced by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, ranking minority member of the Kansas House Education Committee. Government Relations Director Tim Graham submitted and provided testimony on behalf of KNEA. President Schwanz was in attendance, as was Executive Director Kevin Riemann, Director of Communications Marcus Baltzell, and General Counsel Kimberly Vogelsberg.
Unfortunately, it appears too many legislators still believe that apple is a bad one, and we’re not overly optimistic about this legislation getting much more attention than the hearing. A sister bill (SB 145) has been introduced on the Senate side. It is not clear yet whether it will even receive a hearing.
We used many of the same arguments we’ve been using since it was taken away from us in 2014. New to the debate was an opportunity for the team to take a number of issues the 2023 legislature seems to be concerned about and make a credible case that restoration of due process could be a remedy to at least help regarding several of those concerns.
Key members of the 2023 legislature have publicly stated they want teachers to feel more valued and that teacher shortages are real. They need to be addressed, and teachers need more tools to deal with the growing crisis of violent behavior in the classroom. KNEA testimony made the case that restoration of due process is an obvious place to start.
Additionally, a number of Republicans are showing at least a glimmer of hope that they understand our strong desire to be at the table. A well-respected conservative legislator has even suggested in the Statehouse that “we need to show our constituencies that we can work together by finding an issue that we agree on and achieving that first victory together.”
Government Relations challenged the House Committee on Education that we can’t think of a better issue than due process to break that ice.
We’re still a long way from that.
See testimony here.
Watch the hearing here. (KNEA testimony begins at 143:00 on the slider)
For the Feb. 9 audio update on vouchers, due process, the mobility compact for teachers, and a KPERS COLA, click here.