Friday, September 26, 2014

GUEST COMMENTARY: The Truth About Education Reform in Kansas

By Kansas Rep. Willie Dove

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- There has been much discussion about the education reform bill passed earlier this year in the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Unfortunately, those who oppose the new law have misrepresented its facts, and have done a disservice to Kansas voters in the process. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight for my constituents in the 38th District:

1 - The new law DOES NOT outlaw tenure and due process for teachers. It does end automatic tenure for teachers with three years experience. However, teachers and their representatives can still negotiate tenure and due process with their local school boards at contract time. We believe in local control of our schools, and this new law strengthens local school boards as they seek the best opportunities for the their students.

2 - $129 million in additional funding is also a part of this reform package. The Kansas Supreme Court in its Gannon decision earlier this year found the disparity between funding levels of richer and poorer school districts to be too great, and ordered the legislature to narrow the gap. As a result of the additional funding several Kansas school districts; among them Lawrence, Russell, Topeka, and Bonner Springs, have decided to decrease their mill levies. Mill levies are the property tax rates homeowners pay to locally fund their schools. So homeowners in those districts, and hopefully more,  will see lower property taxes as a result of this new law.

3 - Two aspects of the new law have gone virtually unnoticed in the clamor over the tenure issue. First, corporations can invest in scholarships for students in the lowest-performing schools in the state, and receive a tax credit for doing so. Students and their families can use those scholarships to transfer out of that school into a better one. That kind of “school choice” is good for Kansas kids and their families. Secondly, it’s now easier for professionals in other fields to become teachers. We think it’s a good idea if someone in the medical field wants to become a science teacher, or if a business executive wants to bring real-world experience to the classroom. It’s called “alternative certification”, and means one can be a great teacher without a degree in education.

This new law is not anti-teacher. We all have memories of special teachers from our school days. Some may have steered us toward the careers we now have. Some may be family members. Teachers work hard, and they endure a lot from administrators, parents, students, and government rules. But there are under-performing teachers, just as there are under-performing doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Why are those under performing granted special privilege or protection?  The protection any profession has is performance and due process.
K-12 education spending accounts for more than half of the budget in Kansas. We have to get this right, the futures of our kids and grandkids are at stake. The KNEA seems to see education spending as a jobs bill. We see it as an investment in our kids’ future. That’s why I support this education reform law, and want my constituents in the 38th District to know the facts.

Thanks for your time.

Rep. Willie Dove