Government & Politics

Union says law removing tenure for Kansas teachers is unconstitutional

The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether a law that removed hearings for tenured K-12 teachers who had been fired violates the state constitution.
The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether a law that removed hearings for tenured K-12 teachers who had been fired violates the state constitution. File photo

A lawyer for the largest teachers union in Kansas told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that lawmakers’ 2014 decision to get rid of a job protection for tenured K-12 educators was unconstitutional.

But the challenge from the Kansas National Education Association focused not on the law itself, but how the bill was passed in the first place.

In 2014, the Kansas Legislature passed a school funding bill that also removed impartial hearings for K-12 teachers before they were fired.

Before then, teachers who had worked for a school district for three years or more had to be told why they were being fired and were then allowed to ask for an independent hearing to review the decision, according to the KNEA’s original lawsuit.

That all changed after lawmakers passed House Bill 2506, legislation that both funded schools and took away that protection, also known as tenure, for K-12 teachers.

The move, according to the KNEA, violated the “one subject rule” of the Kansas Constitution. By law, most bills cannot contain more than one subject.

Tuesday morning, the union made that the heart of the case against the state of Kansas.

Jason Walta, an attorney with the National Education Association, told the justices it would lower the dignity of the constitution if the court sided with the state.

“What the state is asking here is for a loophole in the political process,” Walta said.

Stephen McAllister, the state’s solicitor general, told the court that the bill’s contents were all about education. By that standard, he said it did not break the constitution’s rule.

“The Legislature viewed this as an education bill,” McAllister said.

The KNEA took the case to the state Supreme Court after a Shawnee County District Court judge sided against the union. The law in place means that thousands of teachers in Kansas are not protected, according to the KNEA.

There is no timetable for the court to announce a decision in the case.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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