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There is a war on teachers in Kansas

Claiming that the school boards speak for the teachers, Rep. Marvin Kleeb tried to justify his behind closed doors meetings with superintendents and KASB which have resulted in a unconscionable attack on teachers and their right to a voice in the workplace.

Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, and Rep. Kleeb believe that teachers must be silenced and their beliefs are apparent in Sub for House Bill 2027, rammed through Kleeb’s House Committee on Commerce yesterday without any opportunity for input from those most affected by the bill — classroom teachers.

Frankly, we are surprised and shocked by the positions taken by KASB and KSSA. In our experience, most individual school board members and superintendents have more respect for their teachers than is reflected in this proposal. We hope that more school boards will act as did Lawrence and publicly oppose bills like Sub for HB 2027.

This session will be marked by an unconscionable and brutal war on Kansas teachers with assault after assault being launched by the Governor’s office, the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, and Rep. Marvin Kleeb.

For the first time, bills are written behind closed doors with specially invited “friends” to craft legislation brutalizing teacher rights. And despite repeated requests to meet with Rep. Kleeb and talk about the issues, KNEA was left out of all discussions until after the bill was passed. It was not until the bill was written, passed, and sent to full House for consideration that Rep. Kleeb asked for input from KNEA.

The result is a bill created in a process that is an insult to democracy. The legislature is returning to the days of smoke filled rooms with political bosses negotiating sweetheart deals with their cronies and then ramming the resulting bills through committee without hearings or any opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard.

Ask yourself, “Why is this legislature so intent on silencing teachers?” The answer to that question is simple. The Kansas National Education Association is the only organization left with the determination to fight for our public schools and our students. The KNEA is a dissenting voice to a legislature intent on defunding and privatizing public education. And in the new political world of Kansas, dissent must be stamped out.

Even the Kansas Association of School Boards has surrendered as an advocate for schools. We are disappointed that KASB has apparently given up fighting for what’s good for schools and turned to supporting the Governor’s plans to permanently increase sales taxes and do away with the home mortgage interest deduction and the deduction on property taxes paid. In exchange for flat school funding — and perhaps the opportunity to do away with public sector unions in education — the KASB has sold out on their long-held tax advocacy. They are no longer a voice of dissent and the legislature is rewarding them.

KASB has been joined in this effort by the Kansas School Superintendents Association. KSSA has focused its attention in this legislative session on destroying teacher rights — in particular collective bargaining. In a paternalistic, “father knows best” manner, KSSA seeks to deny teachers any say in how long they have to work each day, whether or not they have health benefits, what they wear to work, how many class periods they will teach in a day, or even whether or not they will be paid when summoned for jury duty.

The voice of teachers has been critically important in the success of Kansas schools. At the local level, teachers build standards based curriculum, they advocate for students with special needs, they review new textbooks for adoption, they fight for student-driven decision making on how to cope with cuts in funding. As the people who spend the most time with our children apart from parents, teachers know what will benefit student learning more than any other employees in the school system. How could anyone choose to ignore the voices of our teachers and then expect student achievement to increase?

This marks a critical juncture in Kansas history. It is the time when we as Kansans must choose whether to embrace collaboration, transparency, openness and honesty or to accept the end of democracy and the silencing of dissenting voices.

Whether it is in House Bill 2023 that prohibits teachers from engaging in a wide variety of political activities, House Bill 2221 that grants special access to our schools by anti-union organizers, House Bill 2319 that lets school districts opt out of all teacher rights, House Bill 2123 that outright ends collective bargaining and payroll deduction of association dues, the intent is clear — the teachers must sit down and shut up. Their voice is anathema to the political elite that now run this state.

As Sam Brownback has brought his Washington, DC brand of politics to Kansas, we are learning that, just as in Congress, dissent is treason.

Unlike the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas School Superintendents Association, the KNEA will continue to be a voice of dissent when the legislature or the administration seek to harm public education. We will not sit idly by or surrender our principles to curry favor with those in power.

Teachers go to their classrooms every day with less support, more demands, fewer resources and fight every day to overcome the challenges of poverty, homelessness, language barriers, and special needs. They work tirelessly to create lessons that challenge and inspire our children. They spend their own money to supplement dwindling supply budgets or provide for children who don’t have enough money for lunch or to complete their own supply list. And as we have seen all too often, they even put their lives on the line in defense of our children. Are we that distant from Newtown and Taft that we have forgotten just what teachers do? Do we reward our teachers by consciously and deliberately silencing their voices? 

When it comes to our schools and our students, there is no turning back. KNEA will never sit silent. We will not compromise in our advocacy for quality public schools for every child. And until you walk in our shoes, until you live our lives, don’t you dare tell us to sit down and shut up.

You can help your teachers retain their voice of advocacy for our schools. We know that Kansans appreciate the work being done by the men and women who devote their careers in service to our children. Please join us in standing up for our teachers. We hope you will contact your legislators, your school boards, and your superintendents and remind them that a teacher affects eternity and a teacher deserves a voice.

We urge legislators of conscience to stand up for Kansas teachers. Show your respect and appreciation for the work of Kansas teachers by voting no on efforts to limit or repeal collective bargaining or silence teachers in their advocacy for schools and students.

You can stop the war on teachers with your votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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