Kansas lawmakers blasted at legislative forum

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers endured more than an hour of criticism from teachers and their supporters at a legislative forum on a bill to eliminate teacher tenure.

About a dozen lawmakers, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and some 200 people packed Derby City Hall Monday night for the last forum before lawmakers return to Topeka Wednesday for their wrap-up session. The bill increases state funding for public schools by more than $129 million but ends teacher tenure.

Most speakers criticized a provision in the school funding bill that they said removes protections for teachers from unreasonable firings. They also criticized lawmakers for enacting the law with no public hearings or notice, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1nBU6Tc ).

The crowd gave retired teacher Leota Coats a standing ovation after she spoke about being fired 24 years ago from Wellington High School because she refused to change a flunking grade for a star football player. She fought the firing to the Kansas Supreme Court and was reinstated.

“I tell you this because it illustrates how capricious a school administration and school board can be,” said Coats, of Howard. “A winning football team was more important than what was going on in my classroom.”

The crowd cheered loudly for Democratic lawmakers and Rep. Steven Anthimides of Wichita, who voted against the bill. The Republicans received only scattered applause.

The bill also allows school districts to hire math and science teachers who have degrees in their fields but no teaching degrees. And it allows businesses to claim tax credits to pay for scholarships for private school students.

Gail Jamison, a Goddard school board member, said the Legislature was making teaching unattractive to young people.

“We have boards of education, staff parents and students feeling that public education is under attack by policy makers and special interest groups,” she said.

East High School teacher Donald Callaway warned Republican lawmakers that teachers would work to defeat them in the November elections, likening the bill to Pearl Harbor.

“You snuck up on us and you attacked us and you sunk all our ships,” he said. “Everybody knows how that turned out” for the Japanese.

Lawmakers said little during the meeting. Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, who’s leaving the Legislature to run for Sedgwick County Commission, said after the meeting that Republicans candidates will be badly hurt by the bill. He said the teachers organized Monday’s turnout and didn’t represent the opinions of the entire community.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com


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