It didn’t turn out the way she hoped, but for third grade Edgerton Elementary teacher Gina Zimmerman, the process itself was exhilarating.
“It was very liberating and exciting to be a part of something – just to stand up for something you believe in,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman is the president of the Gardner Edgerton National Education Association, the local teacher’s union. Along with dozens of other teachers, including USD 231 teachers, she was in the Capitol watching as the Kansas Legislature approved a bill that the Kansas National Education Association says will limit teacher’s ability to advocate for the needs of students without fear of retribution.
“I was one of the teachers in Topeka fighting that whole weekend,” Zimmerman said.
Specifically, teachers descended on the Kansas Legislature to protest proposals that would change the teacher tenure and due process. The proposed and now approved policy changes were attached to an education funding bill that added $129 million to public education funding. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the legislation into law last week.
According to a KNEA press release, the teachers unions supported a clean funding bill that did not include policy changes.
“We believe these policy pieces were added to advance Gov. Brownback’s anti-public-education, pro-special interest agenda,” a KNEA press release reads. “… We are extremely disappointed by the methods used to shove these policies into the bill under cover of darkness and without any, let alone adequate, open debate.”
Over the course of a long weekend, legislators struggled to craft a bill that would garner enough support for passage. Members of the Senate approved a funding bill that included a provision that would offer a property tax break to parents who homeschool or send their kids to private schools. Members of the House eliminated that provision in order to garner enough votes to proceed. Other provisions that did not make it into the approved legislation would have scrapped Common Core Curriculum requirements.
When members of the House finally adopted an education funding bill, it was by the narrowest of margins – 63-57. The final bill included provisions that will allow tax incentives for businesses that provide private school scholarships to low-income students, and a provision that eliminated due process allowing teachers to be fired-at will.
Sen. Julia Lynn said the changes will make teacher contracts similar to those of other classified state employees.
“Teachers should not be retained simply based on the number of years they’ve taught,” Lynn told a crowd during a question-and-answer session in Gardner on April 12.
KNEA officials, however, say fired teachers who have been the victims of abuse of power will only have redress through costly litigation, under the approved legislation.
Although Zimmerman wasn’t pleased with the outcome of the final bill, she said she hopes the teachers who went to Topeka for the long weekend made a difference.
“There were many teachers from USD 231 that were in Topeka until 3 a.m. on Saturday and all day Sunday trying to fight this thing out,” she said.
Zimmerman said she talked personally to Rep. Bill Sutton, who abstained from voting on the final bill.
“We don’t know if we made a difference there,” Zimmerman said.
Sutton said he abstained from the vote to make a point.
“My present vote was that we’re going in the wrong direction if we continue to drop the school choice piece,” Sutton said.