Is lawsuit best way to recover tenure?

Districts might be willing to negotiate it

By The Mercury

We don’t know whether the state’s largest teachers organization will win its anticipated lawsuit against the state or whether it should, but a few thoughts come to mind as this process unfolds.

The lawsuit is the one the Kansas National Education Association indicated last week it would file Monday, only for its attorney on Monday to say KNEA hasn’t decided on all the issues it wants to pursue or the approach it will take.

At the least, the lawsuit is expected to challenge the provision of a new law that strips teachers of tenure; Tenure is a nonprobationary status generally granted to teachers after working three years in the same district. Its elimination was part of a law that also boosted state funding for education by $129 million, which legislators did essentially because the Kansas Supreme Court ordered them to. Other provisions provide tax credits for corporations that subsidize scholarships for at-risk children at private schools and allow experts in certain fields to teach without attending college teacher education programs.

Eliminating tenure seemed a gratuitous attack on teachers from a Legislature dominated by conservative Republicans who have shown little support for education or educators. We’re less confident than teachers, the overwhelming majority of whom are dedicated to their profession, that the Legislature’s elimination of tenure was unconstitutional.

In response to the KNEA’s promised lawsuit, Gov. Sam Brownback wisely said, “We’re not going to speculate” on its contents. But then this governor, who’s been no friend to schools, added this strange remark: “I hope KNEA will take no action that threatens funding for our schools and the welfare of our students.”

We doubt a KNEA lawsuit would threaten either school funding — unless the suit makes the Legislature feel particularly punitive — or the welfare of students, which most teachers consider important. But teachers would seem to have another option for regaining tenure, or something resembling it. Teachers in school districts across the state can seek to restore it in their annual contract negotiations. And given that many districts have little money for raises, job security could be a reasonable option.

Teachers could argue that districts that don’t offer tenure would be at a competitive disadvantage in attracting the best teaching candidates. That argument didn’t work with the Legislature when teachers warned that good teachers would avoid Kansas if it eliminated tenure, but that doesn’t make the argument any less valid.

School boards might not move quickly, if only to adjust to the new landscape. But they might — after a year or two during which they could run ineffective teachers off — recognize that offering some form of tenure could benefit their districts and their students.

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