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Opinion: Let’s work together to make Iowa public schools great again

This news story was published on February 19, 2021.
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By Sen. Zach Wahls and Rep. Todd Prichard

Public education has long been the foundation of our state. For generations, Iowans could count on a great public education from Iowa schools to set them up for success in life. When we were growing up, our public education system regularly led national rankings.

Today, however, many Iowans are watching with dismay as a decade of underinvestment from Republican leadership has resulted in Iowa placing in the middle of the pack in national rankings. We’re wondering: When will Iowa schools lead the nation again?

Despite a recent claims by Governor Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators that public education is a priority for them , the facts demonstrate otherwise. The latest Annual Survey of School System Finance shows that Iowa now spends less money per-pupil than most of our neighboring states. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, Michigan — and even Nebraska! — all invest more money per pupil than Iowa. South Dakota and Missouri are the exceptions.

The truth is the Iowa Republican Party is being led by radicals who do not believe public education is important — or worse, who believe public schools are being used to brainwash our children. It sounds kooky when you say it out loud, but these beliefs are why the 2020 Iowa Republican party platform explicitly endorsed private school vouchers and called for the abolishment of the federal Department of Education. If they sound radical or out of touch to you, you are not alone. Today’s GOP is not your grandparents’ Republican Party.

Today’s Republican Party of Iowa is undermining public education at every opportunity. Here’s how they are doing it:

· Private school vouchers: Consistent with their party platform, urged by Governor Reynolds, Iowa Republicans in the legislature recently voted to remove tens of millions of dollars from our kids’ public schools to fund private school vouchers. This system could drain tens of millions of dollars in its first year, and hundreds of millions when they expand the program, which they’ve already promised they will do.

· Inadequate school funding: Under Republican leadership, public school funding in Iowa has failed to keep up with a rising cost of living four of the past five years. On top of that, their 2022 plan would provide 137 Iowa school districts less state funding than they did in 2021, prompting higher local property taxes. This is unacceptable.

· Disrespecting educators: Republican politicians can’t say with a straight face that they respect educators when they voted in 2017 to strip educators of their ability to have a say in their own workplace.

· Defunding preschool: Legislation approved by Iowa Republicans will cut $7.5 million from preschool funding with no way to make up that funding locally. A global pandemic is no time to take early childhood education choices away from parents and kids.

Are these the actions of a party that truly values our state’s education legacy? We don’t think so. Iowa Democrats, on the other hand, continue to support better public schools for our students, parents, and educators. That’s why we believe the Legislature should be taking these steps:

• Proactively investing in public schools to reduce class sizes and grow a highly-skilled workforce.

• Providing universal access to high quality preschool and childcare.

• Empowering and respecting educators.

• Funding mental health services for students in rural and urban schools alike.

• Ensuring that every student can afford to pursue higher education without leaving Iowa.

• Protecting rural schools from forced consolidation and fewer opportunities for their students.

That’s a public education agenda all Iowans can support.

Instead, Iowa Republicans support more tax cuts for the rich, spending our tax dollars on private education vouchers, and abolishing the Department of Education. Iowa Democrats believe better public schools start with investing in public education. The choice could not be more clear.

Zach Wahls is the Senate Democratic Leader and Todd Prichard is the House Democratic Leader.

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8 Responses to Opinion: Let’s work together to make Iowa public schools great again

  1. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    February 21, 2021 at 9:35 am

    Wahls and Pritchard aren’t interested one damned bit in improving schools. If they were, they’d have a better plan than “increased investment”. That’s every politican’s answer to everything. SPEND MORE!!

    Well sorry, fellas. We’ve been trying that for the last 50 years with no results.

    This so called plan of theirs is nothing more than a wink to the teachers union. And it’s the teachers union that has ruined schools.

    Try again, Wahls and Pritchard. Or better yet, resign.

  2. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    February 21, 2021 at 2:57 am

    I would agree that the politicians have ruined public education. However, not because of funding but because of unchecked spending. Iowa was one of the top states for education. It is now slipping slowly towards Bill Clinton Arkansas record on education. The union HAS RUINED public education as well as the CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM with bloated bureaucracy and unchecked spending. They fill so called boards with YES (liberal 60’s freaks) people and use studies that are paid for by lobbyists to secure funding from under educated legislators. Everybody loves the next great panacea except the road to hell is paved with good intentions and Iowa has a lot of unchecked good intentions and soon we will be competing with Bill Clinton’s Arkansas record on education which was around 47th in the country. That’s out of 50 states not Obama’s 57 states.

  3. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    February 19, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    The money spent per student has crap all to do with the quality of the education.
    There are many things that do, though. Some are, class sizes, class formats, curriculum, student engagement, discipline (can/will the school suspend or exspell habitually problematic students), does the school (like most) care more about athletics than education, what is the “culture” of the school.
    These things mean more than the dollars per student spent. I love that they say, “The latest Annual Survey of School System Finance shows that Iowa now spends less money per-pupil than most of our neighboring states. ”

    Since they want to equate the spending with education, let’s give a few facts(from )
    how about New York $24,040, District of Columbia $22,759, Connecticut $20,635, New Jersey $20,021, Vermont $19,340, Alaska $17,726, Massachusetts $17,058, New Hampshire $16,893, Pennsylvania $16,395, Wyoming $16,224 are the top 10 spenders, are you telling me they have the best educations?
    What about the bottom 5 Mississippi $8,935, Oklahoma $8,239, Arizona $8,239, Idaho $7,771, Utah $7,628?

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      February 19, 2021 at 8:43 pm

      What would you suggest then? If you are going to tear it down, how would you build it back better.

      • Anonymous Reply Report comment

        February 19, 2021 at 9:17 pm

        I NEVER said one word about tearing it down. I pointed out the fallacy in what the two dundersticks (By Sen. Zach Wahls and Rep. Todd Prichard) that have their name on the opinion piece, said. I pointed out that in the REAL world the amount spent, does NOT equal better.
        To use the way they were pushing, dollars equal better. I’ll go to the store and buy a 1 dollar bottle of water, now I’ll sell it to one of them for $100. There is cheaper bottles of water out there, but mine is better, because it cost them more. I know over simplified, but needed it to be for Sen. Zach Wahls and Rep. Todd Prichard to understand it.
        You and I know that that $100 bottle wasn’t any better than the $1.50 one with a different label.

      • Anonymous Reply Report comment

        February 19, 2021 at 9:36 pm

        I wouldn’t try to Biden our schools, why screw them up. Instead why not fix some of the problems. 1. Class sizes. Get manageable class sizes, when classes are to large, students do not learn as well. they lack 1/1 time for questions with the teacher.
        2. Class formats. Are you running blocks, or periods
        3. Curriculum. This is tied in with Student engagement. If students aren’t being part of the learning by participating, they won’t learn well. So, the Curriculum has to be engaging to the students.
        4. Discipline. Can or will the school suspend or exspell habitually problematic students. We are not talking about small fry stuff. Things like violence,sexual misconduct(larger umbrella than just harassment), drugs, weapons, alcohol, these sort of things.
        5. Does the school (like most) care more about athletics than education, what is the “culture” of the school. If it has the more about athletics than education culture, then you have an uphill battle. how soft of graders are the staff on athletes, on cheaters, ETC.. you get the idea.

        These are a few, there are many more. Each school system is different, and has to treated different. More money being thrown blindly at a problem, never fixes it. It just hides it for a while.

        • Anonymous Reply Report comment

          February 19, 2021 at 11:07 pm

          You should probably spent a couple days in a school right now and see what they are doing on less and less money. You have a point about class sizes because there are still classes with 30-40 students..mostly in high school, some in middle school, very few in elementary. To keep today’s student engaged, you need materials and that costs money. Books aren’t so much of a big deal any more because of computers, but providing one to every student is expensive. The upgrading and improving on the school computer system also is expensive. Transportation costs are also extremely high, especially in rural areas which is about 66% I would guess. Athletics are important to many schools but they tie the community into the school. Do you think 4,000 fans are going to show up for a band concert every week? I am also sure there are some schools where the athletic department has too much say in the academic side of the school but that is the community’s problem and the school board must either be complicit in that or really ignorant.
          Discipline needs work and that goes to the state’s excessive micro-managing everything a school does. I think Iowa’s Republican crew just introduced a bill that says a teacher must allow his students to opt out of a unit, or a part of that unit, if it offends them for any number of reasons. They set the rules which schools must adhere to and the big problem with that is people who know nothing about schools are making the rules for them. Ask one of the politicians (on either side) if they consulted with teachers before advancing a bill or voting on a bill that concerned education in Iowa. I would expect that the majority would say no.
          To go back to your original post, that Pritchard and Wahls presented something false, not necessarily. You need money to continue to improve. If inflation is 3%, a 2.1% increase in money means cost cutting must be done to keep up with the previous year. Most Iowa schools can’t keep up with increasing costs yet continue to produce a quality education but that won’t always be the case. The slippage we have seen in recent years in academic credibility in Iowa is small but it adds up. Eventually, it will be larger and we can’t afford that.

          • Anonymous

            February 20, 2021 at 2:56 am

            I do see your point. They way they were presenting it, made it seem as it was all about money. We know it is about SO much more. Yes, money IS part of it, but only part, all the other things I brought up are parts of it also.
            The unfortunate part of all of this is that, no matter which side is making the rules for the schools or setting the budgets, they are never right. Educators need to be setting out the programs, not politicians. Politics really need to be fully removed from schools, except for Government class or some call it Civics.

            MY OPINION– As a teacher, if students can tell your political leanings from your in classroom actions, you have failed.—