Saturday, September 18

Kansas Legislature and education policy

From Kansas Policy Institute.

The Legislative Session and Education Policy

By David Dorsey

If the legislative session had a theme regarding education policy, it would be the title of Dr. Leo Marvin’s book Baby Steps from the movie What About Bob?. Because even though great strides at improving education fell short, at least it’s a beginning.

The lawmakers in Topeka wrapped up a lengthy, contentious weekend session last week, but then again, aren’t all marathon sessions led by the sleep-deprived contentious? The highest profile, most controversial piece of legislation to move on to the Governor is House Bill 2506, a law that contains several education policy provisions. The most controversial section is the provision that, in some cases, allows school districts to more easily terminate teachers. This, of course, got KNEA to rally teachers to the statehouse. At least the legislature got their attention. Typically, teachers are about as interested in the legislative session as casual fans are interested in college basketball after their March Madness brackets go bust.

The irony is, regardless of the ballyhoo raised by KNEA and the gauntlet of teachers lining the hallways of the capitol clad in their red unification t-shirts, most of us good, enlightened teachers are also opposed to teacher tenure. And many I know would be tougher on incompetent teachers than this new legislation allows. Believe me, there is nothing more frustrating and indefensible as watching groups of students, year in and year out, being deprived of a solid education because of a weak teacher. This is especially true for those teachers who inherit the students the following year. It’s one of the reasons I don’t belong to the union. It expends too much energy shielding incompetent teachers. So, in my opinion, the teacher tenure provision of House Bill 2506 is a good start.

There are a few other sections of the bill worth noting. One is the alternate teacher licensure provision that will allow some to qualify to teach without going through a traditional licensure program. This is targeted to math and science in the middle and high schools. In its current form, it won’t have much of an impact on alternate licensure at a macro level, but it is a step in the right direction toward getting additional qualified people in the teaching profession.

Another proviso that made the final cut is the creation of a tax credit for corporations to give scholarships to at-risk students from low achieving public schools to attend private schools. This means some families will have a choice to leave low performing schools. Full disclosure here, I am finishing my teaching career at one of those schools and I welcome the opportunity for some of our students to get a better chance. I would have liked to have seen even more students and families get the opportunity, but maybe next session.

After all, “baby steps,” right?