Blue Valley area educators, lawmakers warn bills being debated in Topeka will make teachers ‘targets’

Democratic Sen. Cindy Holscher, at podium, brought together a group of pharmacists, teachers, students and lawmakers last week to voice opposition to several bills currently going through the state legislature they say could harm public education and lead teachers to being targeted for what they teach. Photo credit Nikki Lansford.

Some local educators say they are concerned about education bills making their way through the Kansas Legislature this year that could impact the future state of schools in Johnson County.

At an event late last week at St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Overland Park organized by Democratic state Sen. Cindy Holscher, a group of teachers, students and other lawmakers voiced their opposition to several bills currently being debated in Topeka.

Among these are:

  • House Bill 2662: Commonly referred to as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” this measure would, among other things, require all educators to post online lesson plans and materials used in class. Parents would then have the ability to challenge lessons as potentially inappropriate for their child, and the law could potentially open teachers up to legal action for what they teach.
  • House Bill 2068: The bill would expand school voucher programs that use tax credits to help low-income students attend private schools. It allows all Kansas students eligible for federally subsidized free-and-reduced priced lunch to participate.

Concerns among the crowd

At last week’s event, Democratic state Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin spoke out against HB 2068 saying while the bill could help support K-12 private education in the state, it could hurt other schools by diverting taxpayer money away from public education.

Poskin said the bill could be devastating to our schools as “the issue is they’re likely going to be tied to school funding.”

Blue Valley High School teacher Dianne O’Bryan said it is bills like HB 2662 that would serve to hinder and disrupt the current Kansas schools by allowing the questioning of teachers decisions.

She argued teachers have stuck around throughout “years with mediocre funding for schools because they felt loved and supported by their communities.”

But now, she said, many of those teachers are threatening to leave as they no longer feel supported by either entity, especially as parents would have the right to manage their child’s curriculum if the bill passed.

“Teachers have worked for low pay for years, but I promise they won’t work for low pay and be targets for our legislators and communities,” O’Bryan said.

The bill on education materials has had only one hearing in a Senate committee thus far. As of yet, the school voucher bill has not had a hearing in the Kansas Senate.

Pharmacists worry too

During Friday’s gathering, concerns were also brought up about Senate Bill 381, which would mandate that pharmacists must fill physician’s prescriptions for certain off-label drug uses.

Jeff Little, director of pharmacy and outpatient imaging at Saint Luke’s Hospital, said this bill could handicap pharmacists across the state as they would not be able to apply their own assessments when distributing pharmaceuticals.

“Pharmacists not only have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that patients receive the best medical aid and outcomes using proper judgment to do, so they actually have a legal obligation to do so,” Little said.

The pharmacist and prescription bill was sent back to a Senate committee last Thursday.

What supporters say

Although many in the room Friday vehemently opposed these pieces of legislation, the education bills continue to be pushed through by Republican lawmakers who see them as beneficial changes to the current system.

Former Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, who is now a lobbyist for the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, testified in favor of HB 2662 earlier this month, claiming parents have the right to know what their children are being taught in school.

“Parents are the primary deciders of what’s best for their children. And they look upon the public schools and trust the public schools are going to do the right thing,” O’Neal said. “But as President Reagan once famously said ‘trust but verify.'”

When pressed to name a specific issue that could be problematic to teach in Kansas classrooms, O’Neal said, “What we have more concrete evidence of is the suspicion of what’s going on whether it’s happening or not.”

Additionally, proponents of HB 2068 argue the bill will better serve disadvantages Kansas students by providing them with programs that are fairer, stronger and better able to serve due to the increased funding.

Libby Knox, with the Catholic Education Foundation in Kansas City, provided testimony during a budget meeting for the House K-12 Education Committee late January saying the bill would have a positive effect by providing more students with the opportunity to attend a private school.