- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is all but certain to resist pressure to veto a proposal that would end tenure for public school teachers, approved by the Legislature as part of a court-mandated education funding plan.

Brownback must act on the bill before April 26. Signing the anti-tenure proposal into law could complicate Brownback’s re-election by energizing thousands of angry educators to work against him. He’s avoided public statements about the measure’s merits.

But Brownback, his aides and high-ranking Republican allies in the Legislature already have explained why they believe the measure should become law.

Top GOP legislators argue that the anti-tenure policy is not as harsh as it has been portrayed and will help remove bad teachers from classrooms. Brownback and his staff have noted that the measure is part of broader legislation increasing aid to poor school districts, and the whole thing probably would have to be sacrificed to save tenure.

Lawmakers face a July 1 deadline, imposed by the Kansas Supreme Court, which gives them little time to start over.

“We need to continue funding our schools,” Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said after promising the governor will “take a very careful look” at all the bill’s provisions.

The state Supreme Court ruled in March that past, recession-driven cuts in aid to poor districts created unconstitutional funding gaps between them and wealthier ones. Reversing those cuts will cost $129 million in the 2014-2015 school year, and the plan approved by lawmakers contains the full amount.

GOP conservatives insisted on tying spending to policy changes, including the anti-tenure proposal.

Brownback praised the plan immediately after its passage, pointing to the new dollars for schools. But the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and a vocal critic of the plan, has said the issue is not money.

Instead, the KNEA says what’s driving its aggressive social media campaign against the measure is “due process.”

Currently, Kansas teachers facing dismissal after at least three years in the classroom can have their cases reviewed by independent administrative hearing officers. Last year, 18 teachers requested the appointment of hearing officers, according to the state Department of Education.

The school funding plan eliminates that right in state law, though any teacher could still seek an administrative hearing if he or she faces dismissal for exercising a right, such as free speech, protected by the state or U.S. constitutions. But with the changes, the KNEA said, administrators won’t be required to tell teachers why they’re being fired - and aren’t likely to admit it’s because of a political or religious view.

Supporters of the bill pushed back, saying the bill doesn’t prevent local school districts from preserving existing due-process rights in collective bargaining agreements with teachers.

“Honestly, this is a local control bill,” said Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican and an attorney. “The impact of this bill has been greatly overblown.”

Ending tenure was the bill supporters’ intent, and they argue it’s a good thing, giving administrators more flexibility in improving their schools.

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