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OTHER VOICES

OTHER VOICES: A red tide is dangerous for public schools

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Bruce Lear

Bruce Lear

A red tide can be deadly for ocean swimmers. An election red tide can drown the idea of bringing Iowa back to the middle and can be especially dangerous for public school educators and the health of Iowa public schools.

Nov. 8 brought a red wave that swamped all but one Democratic statewide officeholder and washed more Republicans into both chambers of the Iowa Legislature. The red tide didn’t cause a national wave.

But Iowa didn’t get the memo.

MAGA has no middle, and that’s the danger.

Elections have consequences and this one is no exception. When the Republicans gained the majorities in 2016, and Terry Branstad occupied Terrace Hill, the GOP leadership promised to “kick down doors to pass our agenda.”

This time around, with what they perceive as a huge mandate, they won’t stop with kicking in doors. They’ll light the house on fire.

Last session of the Legislature, public education and teachers were the target for any Republican legislator who wanted to make his/her MAGA bones. For that reason, I’m predicting the GOP majorities and the governor will punch down again on educators by ramming through three priorities early much like they did when they destroyed public sector bargaining in 2017.

Private school vouchers

Gov. Kim Reynolds won by 19 points and had long coat tails. She’s made no secret her priority is passing a sweeping private school voucher plan. She won’t waste time. While Iowans are hungover from Christmas cheer, she’ll be working to pass her priority.

She may not have enough votes yet, so I predict she’ll add sweeteners for her third attempt. Those sweeteners will be aimed at rural Republican legislators who rebelled the first two times by refusing a yes vote.

I think Reynolds may try three different approaches. First, she’ll propose more money as a backfill if rural schools lose students to the private. That means dipping into the sacred $1.9 billion state surplus courtesy of Biden and the Democrats in Congress.

Second, she may allow parents already paying for private school to grab some voucher cash. Third, she’ll add paying home school parents a voucher to forego both public and private school and instead educate their kids around the kitchen table.

No matter the enhancement, public schools lose, and rural areas become education deserts with an underfunded public school and no private school within driving distance.

Lowering teaching standards

Another early move will be bills to lower the requirements for becoming a teacher. This will be the GOP’s quick fix to address the teacher shortage. Instead of recognizing there’s simply a shortage of professionals willing to get bashed every day for a less-than-professional salary. Look for GOP legislative eyes turning toward Arizona and Florida, where both welcome new teachers with no college degree.

Less than cost-of-living funding

Within 30 days of the beginning of the session, funding for schools will be debated. Look for the GOP majorities to have amnesia about that $1.9 billion carryover balance they bragged about during the election. Because of tax cuts and the exemptions for retiree pensions, state revenue is declining. That means schools will again be under-funded at far less than the rate of inflation.

Is this inevitable?

These predictions are not inevitable. Educators need to join ISEA, attend forums and develop bipartisan relationships with legislators. Every decision concerning the classroom is political. Educators need to tell their stories and hold politicians accountable.

Iowa must find the political middle again in both parties. That’s where the state thrives, and our public schools are the solid foundation.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City, Iowa. He has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for 11 years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring.

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A few weeks after I began teaching in 1979, my wife and I took a sad walk. With hope in her eyes, clutching my first paycheck, she asked, “Do you get paid biweekly?” “No, this is our monthly income,” I answered. “You made more working in the summer,” she said.

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