Governor Ray and What it Means to be an Iowan

My parents were in the fortunate position of being able to choose where they wanted to raise a family in early 1970s. They had been raised in Nebraska and Minnesota, they had met in Colorado, and had been living in Kansas when they were given the opportunity to choose where they wanted to raise me and my brother.   After a lot of discussion and research they decided to move to Iowa.

What made Iowa appealing to a young couple in the 1970’s? The simple answer is that Governor Robert Ray made Iowa appealing to my parents. From the time I started school in Adair, Iowa through the beginning of my high school career in Ames Robert Ray was the only governor I knew. There was no distinction growing up between the role of the governor and the person Robert Ray, it was just “Governoray”.   He was synonymous with Iowa politics and what it meant to be an Iowan for many years.

So, again, why come to Iowa in the 1970s? To my parents, Iowa was unique.   They saw a pace that was easy going, they saw a commitment to public education, they saw an economy built on family farms, and they saw a state that was welcoming and deceptively progressive.   It was Robert Ray, as much as any single person, who helped to form the Iowa identity that I grew up being so proud of.

Robert Ray’s Iowa took great pride in public schools.   He radically changed how Iowa funds our schools, putting rural schools and urban schools on a more even playing field.   He recognized that people like my parents would choose to come to Iowa because the schools were strong.   He also recognized that Iowa’s schools would only flourish if teachers were treated well.   He demanded that Iowa’s teachers (and nurses and firefighters) be treated as professionals and instituted Iowa Public Employment Relations Law, which allowed employees to bargain collectively. During Governor Ray’s tenure Iowa schools were recognized as outstanding.

Robert Ray’s Iowa was also welcoming to people who needed a safe place to start a new life. During the 1970s Governor Ray cleared the way for thousands of refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Viet Nam settle in Iowa.   While people everywhere understood that there was a crisis in Southeast Asia, it was Governor Ray who took action.   He knew that Iowa was a place where these family’s lives could be changed for the better.   “Don’t tell me of your concerns for human rights, show me,” Ray said. “Don’t tell me of your concerns for these people when you have a chance to save their lives, show me. Don’t tell me how Christian you are. Show me.”

Robert Ray’s Iowa was also a place where moderate political views could find a home.   Often times Governor Ray would place political rivals on state boards or advisory groups. His theory was that it was more valuable to have those who disagreed with him working on the inside to solve problems than to have them sniping from the outside.   Governor Ray’s Iowa was a state where we could elect Senator Charles Grassley and Senator Tom Harkin.   Current Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said this about Governor Ray, “Gov. Ray’s legacy lives on in the millions of people that he impacted as a tremendous statesman for Iowa and our nation. His civility, courage and common-sense governing set a high standard for those who followed,”

As Governor Ray passed away last week at age 89 it made me ponder whether my parents would still be drawn to Iowa in 2018.   Do you look at Iowa in 2018 and see a state dedicated to strong public schools or do you see a state that has recently taken away bargaining rights for teachers, a state that is only growing K-12 funding at a rate of less than 2% in recent years, and whose leaders are eager to steer more public resources to private and charter schools.   Is Iowa still seen as a place that is welcoming to immigrants?  Well, Iowa’s most outspoken congressperson recently said, “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies.” So, let’s just say that Iowa may not be seen as a refuge for those in need any more.

In one of Governor Ray’s final interviews in office he said hoped that, “People in Iowa had pride in this state and in themselves,” because of the work he did.   As you read the many messages of respect to Governor Ray upon his passing, I think it’s obvious that people were proud of our former governor.   Iowans can look back with pride on what it meant to be an Iowan during his tenure.

What public policies in the last few years make us proud to be Iowans? I’m not sure what our current legislators would point to.   More tax breaks to businesses and the top 1%? Privatizing Medicaid?   Taking Collective Bargaining from public employees?   I’m not sure any of that will encourage a young couple to want to come here and call themselves Iowans.

The election of 2018 should be about what it means to be an Iowan.

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Bourdain, My Father, and Me

I have eaten some of the best meals of my life because of Anthony Bourdain.  When my son chose to go to New York as a celebration of his high school graduation I knew that we had to have a dinner at Le Bernardin.  The reason we had to eat there is because Anthony Bourdain made it clear that Le Bernardin was where one went to experience the best.  We went and it was everything Mr. Bourdain promised.  My wife and I visited Austin, Texas and ate at the restaurant Barley Swine because Mr. Bourdain made it look so good and so exciting.  I have been watching Mr. Bourdain’s travel shows for years and I like to think I was the kind of audience he was looking for in that I not only enjoyed watching, but his travelogues made me want to experience what he was experiencing.

I woke up this morning to the news that Anthony Bourdain killed himself.  The news has really knocked the wind out of me.  This was a guy who seemed to love life.  He seemed to embrace challenges.  He seemed to have it all…money, a family, a dream job, handsome, etc.  And now it’s all gone.  The recent suicides of people like Mr. Bourdain, Kate Spade, and even a man like Robin Williams, makes it clear that suicide, and the types of emotional challenges that leads to it, know no boundaries based on money, success, intelligence, fame, or lifestyle.

In a social media world where many of us do our best to put out best possible face in order to show that we are “doing well,” it is clear that many of us struggle.   This morning I think of my father.  In the last few days I have been cleaning up some of my dad’s stuff and in many ways doing the last business of his life.  I’m throwing away a lot of old business stuff that was just taking up space.   I have found it difficult to throw away his things, because it is all stuff that were pieces of his life.   I don’t want to lose these last pieces of who he was.

I am sure that some of the sadness that I feel in hearing about Anthony Bourdain’s passing is related to some not-so-resolved feelings I have about my father.  You see, while my dad didn’t commit suicide, he did pretty much give up at the end of his life.  I haven’t said that to many people because it’s hard to say out loud.  After the passing of my mom in 2012 my dad had hoped that he could start a new life.  Ultimately he wasn’t really able to start all over again.  He missed my mom, he retired from a job he loved, and although I was able to get closer to him in his final years, he missed his old life too much.  Then, at the end, he just didn’t want to fight.  In my last conversation with my father (before my wife and I took our trip to Austin, TX that Mr. Bourdain had inspired), I told him that I knew he was pretty sick and that I didn’t feel like going on the trip to Texas.  He told me to go.  He told me he loved me and I told him that I loved him.  We both cried for a moment.  I said, “there are things we aren’t saying right now, but I know that’s how you want it to be. I’ll miss you.”  That was the last time I saw my dad.  I did send him a text when my flight to Austin stopped in Denver.  My text: “Just landed in Denver…looking forward to a great trip to Austin.”  My dad’s text response: “You were conceived in a little house near Larmier Square…you should go visit.”  And that was it, my last communication with my dad.  He didn’t want to fight any longer and he had passed away by the time I got back to his home in Des Moines.  My dad was fighting battles, some battles I knew and some battles I didn’t know.  I tried to get him help, but mostly he didn’t want that help.   He, like Mr. Bourdain, Ms. Spade, and Mr. Williams, were fortunate that they had access to the best possible mental health care, and yet, we have lost them.   That’s the hard thing about this, access to help is just one piece of the challenge.

There is some good news though.  Young people recognize the stigma around mental health and depression and many of them are doing something about it.  A group of alumni from the school district I work in have formed “Project Silence No More,” an organization dedicated to collaborating with students, parents, schools, and their community to address mental health in our homes and schools.  If I have one regret with my father it is that I knew there was more help available for my father, but the stigma of the challenges I believe he was facing made it so that we left things unsaid that should have been spoken.  That’s why the name of this organization, “Project Silence No More” is so profound to me.  I encourage you to look at what these incredible young people are doing (https://www.projectsilencenomore.org).  My hope for the future lies in the fact that there are young people not just talking about the challenges they see in the world, but they are doing something about them.

There is hope.   Thankfully there is hope.  You see, I struggle from mental health issues.  It is important that I am able to say that.  I don’t get all of the help I should, but I’m trying to get better about that, and the fact that I can say that I face challenges is an important step, made easier because of the young people around me who have made it clear that it’s OK to say it out loud.  I want to say to all of my friends, young and old, to reach out for help when you need to.  Don’t feel like you can’t talk about the challenges you are facing.  It will never be so bad that there isn’t a solution.  Find a dog to hug, a friend to text with, a travel show that will transport you to a better place, call a friend or a family member, or just write about your feelings; all of it can help.

So, all of this makes me think of three of the greatest meals I’ve ever eaten, all in one restaurant.  When I was a teenager my father took our family to New Orleans and he was very excited to take us to a special dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.  He had read that it was the height of good eating and civility.  I can remember the waiters in their white coats, I can remember the Oysters Rockefeller, and I can remember how proud my father was to be able to treat us to that fantastic meal.  Move the clock forward to just a few years ago and I was watching Anthony Bourdain eat at Antoine’s and I had an incredible flashback to my childhood.  As Mr. Bourdain sat eating with the well dressed waiters serving him the finest food in New Orleans I realized that I needed to go back, so we organized the last real trip of my father’s life and we traveled there with my him, my wife, and my son.  In the winter of 2013 I had one of the great meals of my life with family at Antoine’s.  My son can tell you in detail about the rack of lamb he ate.  My father told the stories he knew of the special rooms off of the main dining room, and the waiter told us that he couldn’t tell us the secret ingredients to the Oysters Rockefeller.  It was a wonderful meal.  Flash forward one last time to a few weeks ago when I was able to take a friend to Antoine’s and share my stories; it was cathartic and wonderful.  I got to share a special place, but most importantly I got to share an experience that was the kind of thing that my father, me, and I believe Mr. Bourdain loved.

I know I have more experiences like that in my future and that is what keeps me going.  We all have wonderful experiences in our future if we embrace them when they are presented to us.  My good friend Joe Turner, in his final days said, “Choose Joy!”   Amen Joe, let’s choose the joy!

I Do Have an Agenda: ALL KIDS

A local conservative pundit recently wrote an article vilifying public education and claiming that our schools are producing “progressive zombies.” I’m not interested in linking to it, but a Google search for “progressive zombies” will surely get you there. It’s quite a read. The author’s premise is that public school teachers are feeding young people a “rich diet of propaganda, so that by eighth grade they are well on their way to being good little minions of the state who believe in everything and nothing at all.” Yeah, that’s what conservatives believe is happening in our public school classrooms.

It’s complete nonsense of course, but I promise that Republican legislators read this stuff and buy into it.   They are being told that America’s teachers have entered into a vast conspiracy to turn our young people into “progressive zombies.” In an era where the current Secretary of Education has never attended, been a parent in, worked in, or had any affiliation with any public schools, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

A 2017 Education Next survey (http://educationnext.org/2017-ednext-poll-interactive/) points out that 54% of those polled believe their local public school should receive a grade of an A or a B, while those same people believe that only 23% of schools nationally should get an A or a B.   There’s a disconnect in those results and I have a premise as to why.   Our communities recognize that the schools in their neighborhood are doing the right work. We may believe that schools in “other places” aren’t doing well, but the schools that we have contact with are finding success with the kids in our community. The reality is that every public school faces unique challenges and every public school has unique gifts that are representative of the communities they serve. It is easy to throw stones at “those other” schools, but we should really focus our energy on making sure that every school can thrive based on their distinct needs.

So, what about the idea that America’s public school teachers are actively working to indoctrinate our young people into some sort of progressive cult? Well, I am apparently not getting invited to those meetings. I do get to visit a lot of classrooms and I’ll tell you what I see. I see students engaged in projects intended for authentic audiences. I see vigorous debates about the meaning of great literature.   I see teachers adapting their teaching strategies for diverse learner needs.   I see kindergartners doing incredible problem-solving projects that require them to be collaborative and think critically. I hear incredible music being made.   I see students cooking, building, creating art, and being physically active.   If you haven’t been in a public school in the last ten years, you need to visit one.   I have the pleasure of encountering hundreds of teachers in my work and EVERY ONE of them is doing all they can to support student learning and well-being.

When someone says that our schools are indoctrinating young people with an agenda you can be sure that what they are really saying is that public schools are not promoting THEIR agenda. I’ve said this before, but if it is your belief that America’s public school teachers aren’t up to the task, bring on your army of better qualified people who will do this work while making 17% less than other college graduates (https://www.epi.org/publication/teachers-make-17-percent-less-than-similar-workers/). Assuming we can agree that we all want our public schools to be the best they can be, I can assure you that demonizing those who go into teaching isn’t the answer.

Teachers are making themselves heard across the country, not because we want to, but because we have to. Our schools have to be focused on what is good for ALL young people.   Teachers have to fight to be sure that ALL students have access to a great education. Don’t be fooled into diverting limited resources to those who seek to turn a profit, put more money in the pockets of those who don’t need it, or to those who seek to pursue narrow-minded political or religious agendas. Those of us who recognize the important work that is being done in our public schools need to reclaim the narrative from those who seek to diminish what is really happening.   The story of our schools needs to be told by those who are actually in the classrooms and know the truth.

Waking A Sleeping Giant

Frustrated.   I’m not sure there is a better word to describe America’s teachers at this moment in history than frustrated.   In states all across the country legislators seem intent on knocking the wind out of public education and public educators. Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma have walked off the job recently in response to anti-public education legislation (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/02/us/teacher-strikes-oklahoma-kentucky.html). Across the country teachers don’t feel like their legislators are listening to them and they are left with no choice but to strike.

I promise that teachers don’t want to strike. Teachers want to talk about our schools. Teachers want to talk about making our profession stronger. Teachers want to talk about what is good for young people. But, in the era of Betsy DeVos many legislators are spinning a narrative that public schools are overspending and underperforming. They are also trying to sell the idea that teachers are overcompensated and interested in protecting the status quo. It isn’t true.   Ms. DeVos has recently come to the conclusion that she should visit schools facing challenges (https://www.thedailybeast.com/devos-maybe-i-should-visit-underperforming-schools). I think it’s a great idea and I would encourage legislators who have aligned themselves with her to do the same. When they visit those schools (or any public school for that matter) I would defy them to tell me what program is wasting taxpayer money. Is it the fine arts program? Are we spending too much to support our special education students? Are we spending too much to support early childhood literacy? Should our students have less access to technology?   Should there be fewer clubs, activities, and sports for kids to participate in? I’m eager to hear what they would say.

For whatever reason, legislatures across the country are taking marching orders from wealthy business folks like the Koch Brothers and punishing schools and teachers.   The Koch Brothers have deep pockets and are spending millions of dollars to advance anti-public education legislation across the country. They have actually been pretty successful. Teachers will never be able to match the Koch Brothers money, but if teachers know anything it is how to get people’s attention.

Legislators have awakened a sleeping giant with their most recent waves of legislation aimed at cutting school funding, cutting pensions, dismantling collective bargaining, and shifting public tax dollars to private charter schools. Teachers have tried to tell our stories, but it has fallen on deaf ears. After being ignored by legislators in recent years teachers aren’t going to take it any more. Teachers are ready to stand up and be heard. Writing letters to our legislators hasn’t worked. Having rallies on the steps of the state capitol hasn’t worked. In West Virginia they were finally heard when they went on strike. It’s a shame that teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma have had to go to that point as well, but this is where legislators have led us.

I am hopeful (but not necessarily optimistic) that legislators will see what is happening in these and other states and decide to bring teachers to the table before it comes to more strikes.   Teachers want to teach, but teachers are frustrated. We are frustrated with being ignored and we’re ready to take our message to our communities. Ultimately we are ready to meet our legislators at the ballot box.   Unprecedented numbers of teachers are running for office and even more candidates are making public education the centerpiece of their campaigns as they run against anti-public education candidates.   The Koch Brothers may have deep pockets, but if I were a legislator voting against public schools today, I’d be worried about the giant that they have woken up when we get to November.

Doing the Uncomfortable

My friend Sarah Brown Wessling and several other national Teachers of the Year wrote an article asking teachers to advocate for safe schools (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/03/02/teachers-of-the-year-urge-educators-to-do-the-uncomfortable-advocate-for-safe-schools/?utm_term=.9ae979817c73).  The title of the article was “Do the Uncomfortable: Advocate for safe schools.”  I encourage my teacher colleagues to read it.  It is critical that teachers have their voices heard in the national conversation around school safety.

As I read the article it struck me that it was sad that teachers would find it uncomfortable to become advocates for schools, much less for school safety.  Yet, I get it.  Over the course of the last three years I have raised my voice as an advocate for public schools.  I can say from experience that it isn’t always easy to speak out.  A column that I wrote generated over 1000 comments in the Washington Post, many of which suggested that I was a no good filthy pinko who hated America.  Even in a very supportive school district, my advocacy can make my employer a little squeamish.  I have also encountered colleagues willing to come at me in public forums for choosing to speak out.  In short, it can absolutely be uncomfortable to teachers to speak up.  With that being said, teachers have to be heard.

Teachers need to be heard on the issue of school safety.  Teachers understand that schools are often a refuge for our students.  They can be a refuge from poverty, they can be a refuge from a troubled family life, and they can be a refuge from the violence that they might face in their own neighborhoods.  Teachers recognize that the hours students spend inside their school are often where students feel the safest.  Schools put a lot of thought and effort into making our schools safe.  Every teacher has thought through what they would do if their student’s safety was threatened by someone wanting to harm them.  The all-too-familiar history of school violence is filled with stories of courageous teachers willing to lay down their lives to protect their students.  If politicians pay are paying any attention at all, they will hear that teachers AND students are saying clearly that putting more guns in our schools is NOT the answer.

While school safety is a critical issue that teachers need to be heard on, teachers across the country are also raising their voices in order to protect public education.  The teacher’s strike in West Virginia was an example of teachers collectively saying that they were no longer going to watch legislators dismantle public education in their state.  Teacher pay in West Virginia is very low, the legislature was attacking teacher unions, there is a health-insurance crisis, and there was an attempt to push more public tax dollars into for-profit charter schools.  The teachers of West Virginia stood up and collectively said that they weren’t going to allow their legislators to undermine public schools any longer.  They stood up for the public schools that they have invested their lives in.  The lesson of the teachers strike in West Virginia is that when teachers come together to be heard we can create real change for the good of public schools.

You can see teachers voices rising in many other states as well (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/09/us/teachers-union-movement/index.html).  Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and many other states are sending a message that teachers are the best advocates for, and defenders of public education.  If we don’t stand up now, as forces seek to push public schools into a state of atrophy through lack of funding, dismantling of teacher unions, and lining the pockets of those who seek to profit off of our education system, then we are complicit in the decline of the schools that we care so much about.

Teachers understand how our schools change lives.  We must tell our stories.  As I watched Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos interviewed on 60 minutes this weekend it became clear that our voices must be heard now more than ever (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/03/12/betsy-devoss-botched-60-minutes-interview-annotated/?utm_term=.92ae4948af5b).  Ms. DeVos has a giant megaphone through which she spreads misinformation.  She doesn’t seem to understand that, although unqualified, she now shares the responsibility of supporting public schools students with all of us who have chosen to dedicate our lives to public education.  It will take the collective voices of teachers throughout the country to overcome the damage that she is inflicting on public education.

The greatest thing that has come of my choice to write in advocacy for public schools has been hearing from other teachers.   I have kept many notes from young people who are preparing to go into teaching as well as notes from retired teachers who have been kind enough to reach out in support of my writing.  To all of my teacher colleagues, I understand that speaking out can be uncomfortable, and I know that it isn’t what any of us got into teaching to do, but it is critical that we be heard.  I promise that the rewards will far outweigh the discomfort.

It’s Not About Winning and Losing

I live near a public pool. It’s a big pool with a water slide and some other playground equipment. On hot days it gets really busy. I have noticed that the pool at the country club isn’t nearly as busy.   It stuck me recently that it would be really cool if my state legislature would enact some legislation that would allow me to use public tax dollars to pay for my country club membership. I feel like I deserve to have a choice in the pool that I choose to go to and it seems unfair that I don’t have access to the country club pool, so I’m proposing that the state legislature assigns me a PSA (Pool Savings Account) that I can use to pay my membership at the country club.

I am also not sure that my house is safe enough. I know that our police department works very hard, but they are underfunded, understaffed, and may not be able to prevent potential crimes in my neighborhood. It strikes me that if I had private security on my property I would be much safer. I think it would be great if my legislators would enact some legislation that would allow me to use public tax dollars to allow me to hire private security to make my family safer.   I am calling on my legislators to create another PSA (Police Savings Account) that I can use to pay a private security company to protect my family and me.

That’s the road we are headed down in Iowa right? Iowa’s Republican legislators are proposing that public tax dollars be used to subsidize private schools. They are proposing that public tax dollars be funneled to schools that are not held to the same standards of our public schools. They are proposing that public tax dollars be spent to support religious schools. They are proposing that public tax dollars be spent on schools that get to pick and choose their student body.

Iowa Republicans are trying to sell the notion that there is an apples to apples comparison of what public schools are expected to do and private schools. The resources given to public schools are used to support all students.   The public schools I am proud to serve support students who speak many different languages, have a range of special needs, and come from an incredible range of socio-economic backgrounds. There is no application process by which we determine who gets to attend and who has to go somewhere else. There are great private schools in Iowa, but their mission isn’t the same as their public school counterparts. Koch Brothers lobbyist Drew Klein compares public and private schools to Chik Fil A and McDonalds, as though public schools are playing a game in which they are trying to turn a profit at the expense of another school. That’s where “school choice” proponents have this whole thing wrong. If you make public education about “winning” and “losing” then we are all going to lose.   You see, we would then have to decide what constitutes a “win”. I would argue that when we support our special needs students our community wins. I would argue that when we support our students whose first language isn’t English that our community wins. I would argue that when our schools open their doors to students who live in poverty and provide them with the tools necessary to succeed beyond our walls that our community wins. The problem is that that narrative doesn’t always prevail. The narrative that schools can be measured by standardized test scores is an easier sell. Our communities are going to be the losers if we enact policies that further increase the gap between the resources accessible to our students who are already privileged and our students who come to us with challenges that most of us can only imagine.

Vouchers are bad for Iowa. Don’t be fooled by the Koch Brother’s propaganda. Iowans who support public education have lost many battles in recent years, but this is one we can’t afford to lose.   If our legislators truly wanted better opportunities for ALL students they would fund our public schools at a level that allowed schools to create more opportunities. What they want is for more money to end up in the pockets of those who are already privileged. That’s not a win for Iowa.

Iowa Has a Choice To Make

My father used to tell me not to “spit in the wind.”  Actually he didn’t say “spit”, but you get the idea.  For most of my life I have followed his advice, but for the last couple of years that’s exactly what I feel like I’ve been doing.  As I have ranted and squawked about the importance of Iowa’s public schools and advocated for Iowa to not just talk about the importance of education, Iowa’s legislators have time and time again demonstrated that they are more interested in protecting the interests of big business and Iowa’s wealthiest citizens while simultaneously doing all they can to diminish the rights of public employees.

As much as it would pain my father, I’m going to spit into the wind a little more.   While the Iowa Poll (Selzer and Co.; Dec. 3-6, 2017) says that 65% of Iowans don’t want private education to be supported by public funds, our Republican lawmakers are getting ready to implement a voucher system (they call them Education Savings Accounts because that polls better) that would divert millions of dollars from public education.  Iowans don’t want school vouchers, but groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) love vouchers, and let’s be clear when we talk about ALEC and AFP we are talking about the Koch Brothers.  When 65% of Iowans don’t want their tax dollars to go to private schools and yet our legislators continue to insist on pushing this legislation, what does that tell you?  It tells you that money talks.

So, who benefits from vouchers?  Well, to be honest, rich people benefit.   Let me start by saying that there are some incredible private schools in Iowa.  But, let’s be very clear, vouchers will first and foremost allow wealthy Iowans who send their children to private schools to keep more money in their own pockets.  No one wants to shut down Iowa’s fine private schools, but private schools aren’t held to the same measure of accountability as public schools, they are not required to serve the vulnerable populations that public schools serve, and private schools can promote religions and ideologies that tax payer dollars should not be used to support.   Should I expect the state to subsidize my membership to the local country club because I don’t want to use the public park?

Proponents of vouchers have claimed ownership of the word “choice” when it comes to our schools.   Their theory is that if parents had access to more “choice” that schools would suddenly get better because there would be “competition.”  It seems simple, and yet it’s a deeply flawed premise.  First of all, rural Iowans won’t suddenly have more educational “choices”.  Much to the contrary, the diversion of funds away from public schools will surely lead to more rural schools having to consolidate.  Parents in rural Iowa will certainly have fewer choices, while parents of suburban private school students will have more money in their pockets.  The premise that school “choice” will make public schools better is also driven by the narrative that our public schools aren’t already doing all they can for the students who walk into our doors each and every day.  I defy advocates for “school choice” to come into the public school classrooms I work in and tell me how those teachers aren’t getting most out of the resources they have been given.  I would defy those “school choice” advocates to tell me what programs are superfluous in our public schools.  Should we have fewer arts programs?  Should we have fewer industrial tech offerings?  Are schools doing too much to support our special education students?  Should we cram more kids into each classroom?  Is there an army of more qualified educators itching to teach in Iowa for less money and fewer benefits?  The narrative that our public schools are failing is false.  Public schools are faced with increasing challenges and they are facing those challenges head on in spite of legislators who are hostile to the work that we do.

The thing is, schools aren’t a business with an economic bottom line.  Our bottom line is serving EVERY young person who walks in the door.   People who know me know that I don’t have any problem with competition.  If I thought that by simply opening private/charter schools across the streets from our current public schools that we could transform education, I’d be on that bandwagon in a heartbeat, but that’s not how it works.  There is a place for private schools and parents should have that choice, but they shouldn’t be subsidized by our public tax dollars.

The Koch Brothers believe that the answer to all of our problems is to put more money in the pockets of big businesses and wealthy people.  That premise is demonstrably false (see Kansas).  My premise is that if we truly invested in Iowa’s public schools families would flock to our state in record numbers.  Politicians like to talk about schools being our most important resource.  It’s time to stop talking and actually do something about it.

Our legislators like to talk about “choice”.  Well, they have a choice.  They can continue to increase tax breaks to big businesses and wealthy Iowans, leaving our state budget bleeding red ink, or they can close giant tax loopholes and support fair tax legislation that allows Iowa to restore resources that we are rapidly losing.   It is their choice.  It is also important to know that Iowans have a big choice before them in November of 2018.   Legislators better be ready to answer for their choices in this legislative session when they face us this fall.   Listen to your constituents or listen to Big Money…the choice is yours.