TOPEKA, Kan. — The largest teachers’ union in Kansas asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to restore tenure for public school teachers, saying that Republican legislators wrongly bundled a measure to strip educators of job protections with budget items in order to pass it.
The high court heard arguments from attorneys in the first of multiple possible challenges to the 2-year-old law. The measure repealed a longstanding policy of requiring schools to show they had a good cause for dismissing a teacher with three or more years in the classroom and giving the teacher the right to an independent review.
The Kansas National Education Association had hoped to restore job protections quickly with a lawsuit arguing that GOP lawmakers violated the state constitution’s requirement that their bills contain only one subject by including the anti-teacher measure in a broader funding bill. But a Shawnee County district judge ruled against the union, and it appealed.
Tenure for public school teachers also has been targeted in California and North Carolina, and the Kansas union has portrayed the state’s 2014 law as an attack on public education by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies. But the arguments Tuesday focused on how it became law.
And national teachers’ union attorney Jason Walta told the justices that the state is asking the high court to create a loophole in constitutional restraints on the Legislature that prevent abuses in tying unpopular policy to measures that must pass to operate state government.
“That’s a dangerous doctrine and lowers the dignity of the constitution,” he said.
The union’s success hinges on the Supreme Court seeing the 2014 legislation as an appropriations bill — making the distribution of state dollars its only subject. The state argues — and the Shawnee County judge concluded — that the measure concerned education, allowing a mix of budget items and policy under that subject.
“The starting point is, what does the Legislature say this bill is?” state Solicitor General Stephen McAllister told the court.
Republican legislators argued that the state’s previous tenure policies made it difficult for schools to fire poor, veteran teachers.
The KNEA also has filed separate lawsuits in three counties on behalf of veteran teachers, arguing that lawmakers couldn’t apply the 2014 law to educators who’d previously gained job protections.
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