Opinion: Policy tied into funding bill bad news for Kansas

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Following intense weekend discussions, the Kansas legislature finally sent a bill to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk that would fund Kansas schools: House Bill 2506.

The bill provides a $129 million boost in K-12 education state spending, an increase in base aid of $14 per pupil for the upcoming school year, bumping the amount to $3,838. It also allows local school districts to increase property tax collections via the “local-option budget.”

While money for schools is great and much needed, let’s look at why this bill even exists. House Bill 2506 was drafted in response to a ruling the Kansas Supreme Court made in March; the Court unanimously decided that state legislators had failed to fairly fund schools. That’s right – the Kansas Supreme Court had to order the legislature, whose job it is to fund the schools, to fund the schools.

What’s even more ridiculous is the policy that is tied into this funding bill.

In order to provide schools with the funding they need to prepare the next generation of Kansans to be productive and contributing members of society, moderates had to compromise with extreme conservatives within the legislature. These compromises include getting rid of due process for teachers, as well as granting tax credits to companies who provide scholarships to private schools.

Due process has been a right of Kansas teachers since 1957. Due process means that teachers must be given a written reason for termination and have the right to appeal that decision. Without it, excellent teachers who educate, encourage and care for students can be fired for anything, from disagreeing with their bosses to their sexual orientation.

Kansas teachers (who are paid the 42nd lowest in the country) deserve better than this. We have all had a teacher who helped form us into who we are now. We revered and admired them. They stayed after school to help us with Spanish verbs; they came in early so we could make up an algebra test. They endured long bus rides, late basketball tournaments and weekend choir competitions, working far longer than 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Their smiles and encouragement kept us learning. Now, when we see them at a hometown play or football game, their faces light up as we tell them of our college achievements and aspirations. Aren’t these civil servants worthy of job security?

Supporters of ending due process for teachers are quick to point out that employees in the private sector do not have those benefits. This is usually true. However, public school teachers do not work in the private sector. Most government employees who are not elected or appointed by elected officials have some form of due process and job security. Teachers shouldn’t be an exception.

Additionally, with such little pay and no due process, how can Kansas school districts recruit top teachers? The best teachers will go to other states for higher salaries, due process and more legislative support.

Not only is this bill a huge blow to the teachers who helped raise us, it is also a sucker punch to public schools. By only increasing base aid to students by $14, schools will still be heavily strapped for cash. This means more devoted and hard-working faculty members will be terminated in an attempt to cut costs, and students will continue to learn in outdated facilities with outdated materials as their class sizes continue to climb. Consequently, the overall quality of a Kansas education will spiral downward, and our high school seniors will graduate less prepared for higher education and adulthood than ever before.

It gets worse. House Bill 2506 gives tax breaks to companies who provide students with scholarships to private schools. It is like the Kansas legislature is cheering for the elite club baseball team where not everyone makes the cut, instead of the parks and recreation team that teaches every player how to play, regardless of their initial ability.

In addition, when teachers lined the hallways of the state capital, fighting for the approximately 429,000 public school students in Kansas while legislators hashed it out late into the night, where was Brownback?

Nowhere to be found.

Don’t worry, he released a statement. Although he does not say in the statement whether or not he will sign House Bill 2506, he says, “The bill ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently, putting money in the classrooms to help teachers teach and students learn.”

How does taking away their rights help teachers teach?

There is arguably no state government responsibility more vital to a state’s future than education. With the Kansas legislature refusing to adequately and fairly fund schools and protect teachers, how can we assure a prosperous future for Kansas and its citizens?

Luckily, Brownback and many state lawmakers are up for reelection in November. Go to the polls, and show them that Kansans want and deserve better for our students, who are the future of our state.

Maria Penrod is a sophomore in mass communications. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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