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Contract Language May Save Due-Process Rights for Some Kansas Teachers

During last-minute negotiations to remake school finance in Kansas in response to a state Supreme Court decision, lawmakers decided to end due-process rights for K-12 teachers. The move, naturally, generated anger from teachers and their union representation in the state. But it turns out that for some Kansas teachers, the new state law may not strip them of due process after all.

How so? The answer's in contract language between Wichita USD and United Teachers of Wichita, according to the Wichita Eagle. Kansas legislators changed what it means, technically at least, to be a teacher in state law. Here's how the change is described in a summary of the school-finance bill that includes the elimination of due process in Kansas: "In the act governing due process procedures, the bill strikes from the definition of "teacher" any professional employee who is required to hold a certificate to teach in any school district."

In other words, Kansas lawmakers told K-12 teachers: Sorry, you're legally not "teachers" any more. (The relevant bill that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law, House BIll 2506, also included exemptions from teacher-licensure requirements for certain teachers, another part of the new law that's irked unions in Kansas.)

But the contract between the Wichita union, which represents about 4,200 members, and the city school district states that teachers will keep their due-process and tenure rights regardless of how the state defines a teacher in statute, the Eagle reported. That would seem, in theory at least, to shield Wichita teachers from whatever the state does, even though the intent of the law seems to have been to protect nurses and social workers in city schools, not classroom teachers. 

In theory, the state's latest change to teacher protections simply puts more power in the local negotiating process between districts and local unions. In many cases, that shift puts much more power in collective bargaining into districts' hands—teachers in Kansas are legally barred from going on strike. But here's an instance where that shift to empower districts actually seems to help teachers. 

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