Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Governor Reynolds

Dear Governor Reynolds,

Congratulations on the start of your new term as governor of Iowa. It was quite a campaign wasn’t it? My favorite part was when you brought in Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Pillow Guy, and Mr. Trump to talk about stolen elections, the attack on Paul Pelosi, and probably space lasers (I didn’t pay that much attention). If Iowans needed to be reminded that you are more interested in your national profile than the interests of Iowans, there it was. But hey, you won, so congratulations.

As I do every year, I watched your State of the State speech to hear what we are in for during this legislative session. I expected to hear all about your plan to send public dollars to private schools, which you certainly did, but you did more. Early in the speech you decided to try to tell Iowans that public employee relations have improved since you and your colleagues gutted collective bargaining in 2017. It’s a lie of course, and I challenge you to produce a single public employee who will tell you that they are better off since you stripped away our ability to bargain for things that make our lives better and make our workplaces better. Produce a single public employee who thinks the legislation you passed in the middle of the night in 2017 has improved working conditions. Iowa is on the verge of a teacher shortage unlike anything we have ever seen, and you stand up there and try to sell that the gutting of Chapter 20 has made conditions better. The looming teacher shortage and the crisis that will come along with it are on you.

But of course you were saving the best for last. You proposed that Iowa students who go to private schools will get to hand that school a big publicly funded voucher. That voucher will come with no strings. Those public tax dollars will go to religious education. The schools receiving those funds won’t be subject to the same guidelines and oversight as public schools. The private schools receiving public funding can turn away students for any reason. There will be no accountability for how private schools spend those public dollars.

Of course you know this Ms. Reynolds, but Iowans don’t want vouchers. Poll after poll has shown that.

2021 Poll

2022 Poll

So, who does want vouchers? I thought this picture of a curiously well-funded Betsy DeVos sycophant in a tuxedo tells more than a thousand words.

Since some of your previous education advisors have been running around in leotards at school board meetings and having some legal trouble, it seems that the guy in the tuxedo has had a lot of influence on your education proposals. Can you tell me if any of the following statement is false? Polls show that Iowans don’t want vouchers, but Betsy DeVos and her tuxedo wearing lackeys do want vouchers. That about covers it right?

Here is the kicker though Ms. Reynolds. What is all of this going to cost Iowans? At a time when you’re going to cut taxes for the wealthiest Iowans even more (replicating the failed Kansas Experiment, the Betsy DeVos voucher plan is going to cost Iowans over $340,000,000 a year. Interestingly, proponents of vouchers don’t seem to want Iowans to know the cost, as they are asking that these bills not go through normal channels.

Why wouldn’t you want Iowans to know the financial impact of your voucher plan governor? Don’t we have the right to know?

At the end of the day, it is clear that you’re willing to sell out Iowans (particularly rural Iowans who have no access to private schools but will be funding wealthy suburban families to attend private schools) in order to do the bidding of people from out of state who show up in Iowa wearing tuxedos in order to get their snouts in the trough that you’re setting up for them.

I suppose this shouldn’t be shocking in an era where there are Iowa legislators promoting the idea that schools have litter boxes laid out for students. We live in an era where conservative leaders call teachers “groomers”. Iowans are being told to be worried about CRT in our K-12 classrooms by people who couldn’t define CRT if you spotted them the C and the R. Ms. Reynolds, you yourself regularly talk about “failing schools” and yet you never define what a failing school would be or name a school that you believe is failing. You and your party have allowed public schools to come under attack through unrelenting misinformation and done it while under funding them.

I suppose it’s now just a matter of when you will enact this legislation and we can all sit back and wait and see the result. If I were a gambling man I’d make a few bets with you. I would bet you that this legislation leads to numerous rural schools being closed. I’d bet you that very few of the students you say need to get out of their public schools will be able to afford the extra expenses charged in order to be able to go to a private school (even if they have access to one). I’ll bet you that we will be reading about stories of private schools mismanaging this public money within a year of this legislation being enacted. I’ll also bet you that Iowa will see the exact same results as every other state which has enacted similar legislation, which is to say no notable gains in student learning.

No one will believe me when I say this, but I hope you turn out to be right. I hope that this plan leads to better options for every student in Iowa. I became a teacher because I want to see students succeed. The problem is that, as a teacher, I study history, I can read research, and I can anticipate outcomes based on what I see happening all around me. But, let’s at least agree that guys from out of state who like to wear tuxedos are going to do pretty well when this is all over!

Sincerely,

Patrick Kearney, Iowa Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Marjorie Taylor Greene

Dear Ms. Taylor-Greene,

I wasn’t familiar with you until you showed up in Iowa recently. You were invited by Governor Reynolds and Senator Grassley to rally for them before the election. It seemed strange that Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Grassley had invited a Georgia congressperson to speak at their rally, but I assumed that you must be a prominent leader in the Republican party. A quick Google search led to headlines of “space lasers” and so I assumed that you must be a notable scientist or something along those lines. Further investigation made it clear that you weren’t a scientist. It became clear that you’re, well, you’re a lot.

The space laser thing is kind of funny, but not really. It’s anti-Semitic and frankly whack-a-doodle crazy. After reading about your belief in Jewish space lasers I decided to dig a little deeper. Again, I was curious why Governor Reynolds and Senator Grassley decided to invite you to Iowa to make a case for their campaigns. Clearly they believe that you represent an important voice in the Republican party.

I’m a teacher, so I was curious about your views on education. And again your views are, well, your views are special. My research immediately discovered that you’re one of those nutjobs who likes to talk about schools having litter boxes. Much like the space laser thing, it’s easy to laugh at this stuff, but it’s actually dangerous. It’s dangerous because it’s obvious that you frequent the cesspools that are the Facebook pages of groups like “Parents for a Rooty Tooty Yesterday” who traffic this nonsense. It’s dangerous because this misinformation is being used to scare uninformed people about what is happening in our schools. When a congressperson gets up and spews this gibberish, people take it seriously. It’s also a lie that is built around hatred for vulnerable young people.

Further investigation of your views on education were found when I saw this observation you made, “kids in college are being brainwashed to become teachers to train kids that they can change their gender.” There’s so much wrong with that statement that it’s hard to know where to begin, but it’s obviously said by someone who has not spent any time in school of education or around any teachers. I have lots of thoughts about how universities train teachers, but there isn’t any “brainwashing” going on. We need to celebrate young men and women who choose to go into education right now. They are too smart, too dedicated, and too strong to be “brainwashed”.

I don’t have enough space on this page or time to go through all of the lies that you spread about schools, teachers, and young people. Here’s the thing, it should be easy to ignore you, but supposedly serious people like Kim Reynolds and Chuck Grassley choose to stand side by side with people like you and the Pillow Guy (who was also at the Iowa rally) and so they give you credibility. You are clearly an important voice in the Republican party. That being said, you’re crazy-go-bananas. In a world where we need to have important conversations about public schools, Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Grassley chose to bring you to Iowa. The current legislative session in Iowa is going to be all about the future of Iowa’s public schools and we need serious people to have those conversations, instead the governor chose to bring you. In many ways that says all we need to know about how serious she is about public schools and the important conversations we should be having.

I’d love to ask you to spend some time with public school teachers and especially with the young people who are going into education, but I am sure that would be useless. I spend a lot of time with teachers and they’re smart, caring, dedicated, and tough as nails. But, I also get to spend a fair amount of time with those kids you think are being “brainwashed”. Let me tell you, those young people are amazing. In a world where people with bad intentions are vilifying teachers and public schools, they are choosing to make a difference. In a world where crazy people are talking about litter boxes, these young people are talking about pedagogy, they are talking about differentiation, they are talking about inclusion, and they are talking about setting high standards for ALL students. I’d ask you to spend time with us, but I know it won’t matter. If you’re able to spread lies about space lasers and litter boxes, I suspect conversations about real pedagogical issues is a little out of your reach.

Iowans need to have a serious conversation about education. That conversation should be held with educators, parents, community leaders, and especially with students. Those conversations should start in our communities and then move to the statehouse. The conversations should center on how to make sure schools are welcoming and meaningful to ALL students. We don’t need Georgia Qongresspeople or guys from Washington D.C. named Corey setting the agenda.

Iowans are perfectly capable of having these conversations without you Ms. Taylor-Greene, so with all due respect, take your space lasers, your litter boxes, and focus on the good people of Georgia. We here in Iowa could do without your lies and conspiracies.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Governor Reynolds

Dear Governor Reynolds,

I see that you had a rally in Sioux City last week. It looks like there was a pretty decent sized crowd. There were some interesting speakers at the rally as well. I assume you were excited to share the stage with Marjorie Taylor Greene. There’s nothing like having mainstream Republican leaders coming to Iowa to support your campaign.

Also in attendance at the rally (apparently speaking to people on a stage at the rally site) was a guy named Mike Lindell. Do you know him well? I looked up Mike Lindell on the interwebs and found out that he’s spent a lot of time and money claiming that the 2020 election was a sham. Interestingly he has been saying some other things lately.

Mr. Lindell says that he has cameras and people in “every county” and that he has “cyber guys” who are able to look inside voting machines. It made me curious, since he seemed to be a welcomed presence at your rally, if you are concerned that a pillow salesman has access to Iowa’s voting machines. Or, maybe he’s a liar. I guess my question to you is this, would you be willing to tell Iowans that the guy who you rallied with this week is a liar? I mean, he’s either a liar, or his “cyber guys” actually have access to Iowa’s voting machines. Seems like a big deal if he’s able to look our voting machines right?

For some reason there’s a quote my grandma used to say that has come to mind recently. She used to say that if you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas. I’m not sure why that has been running through my head as I watched clips of your Sioux City rally. Oh well, just curious if you had any thoughts on the pillow guy. Anywho, I hope you gave Ms. Taylor-Greene a nice Iowa welqome. Lastly, be sure to say hello to the Q-Amoms, I hear they’re going through some stuff.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Iowan

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Voters

If you weren’t aware, I’m a teacher. I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years. I have taught in big schools, small schools, urban schools, rural schools, and suburban schools. I’ve taught thousands of students, won awards, and served in a variety of leadership positions in my profession. What I’m going to say next, I say without any sense of hyperbole; teaching is harder now than it has been at any time in the last 30 years. The last two and half years have presented schools, students, and teachers with unimaginable challenges. With each new challenge everyone has done their best to meet the needs of every student.

As we face an election in less than two weeks I want to share a couple of thoughts with voters. First, this election is important. It is obvious that our country is more divided than at any time in my memory. I was going to start my next sentence to say “for better or for worse, that divide has an impact on our schools.” I looked at that sentence and realized it was wrong. The political divide in our country is bad for our schools. The results of this election will have a long term impact on public schools in our country. Whether it is how legislators deal with vouchers, book banning, teacher licensing, funding, or regulating curriculum, the next two years will play a large role in determining the future of public education.

If you were to get your information about public education from a particular segment of the media (a notably large segment) you would believe the following about public schools.

This is just a small sampling of what a sizable number of politicians and people in the “media” want you to believe about public schools. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what their goal is. There are politicians, legislators, and “media” members who want to scare people about what is happening in our public schools. Rather than focus on things that are actually happening, they are creating outrage by inventing a narrative based on lies. Sadly, it’s working. You know how I know it’s working? No matter how much schools or people with actual knowledge refute this ridiculousness, it is perpetuated. Take the cat litter thing for instance. It’s not happening. There is no evidence it is happening, and yet Republican politicians continue to say it as it is fact months after it started appearing on the Facebook pages of lunatics. (In the last 24 hours, since I posted this letter, CNN has reported that the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire has told this lie multiple times).

While the cat litter thing seems kind of silly (although the perpetuation of it is rooted in hate), it is just a piece of the attack on public schools and teachers in particular. In my local school district, the president of the Iowa Senate showed up to threaten to throw teacher in jails for teaching school board approved curriculum. While the senator described his desire to jail teachers for doing their jobs, other local politicians stood like cowards and nodded their heads. Not only have Iowa legislators proposed laws that threaten teachers, they have actually passed legislation that forbids teachers from teaching “divisive concepts“.

So, what’s the point? The point is that there are a lot of non-serious people trying to scare voters right now. We live in a world where Iowa’s governor receives advice on education from a woman who shows up to school board meetings and strips down to a leotard in a little skit to make a point about…something. That same “activist” has recently been arrested for filing false reports to the Department of Human Services. So yeah, that’s who is on the governor’s speed dial. These aren’t serious people, but they are serious about destroying public education.

There is a large group of people (none of whom are educators) trying to scare you about what they say is happening in public schools. I would suggest you listen to actual educators about what is happening. First, they would tell you how hard everyone is trying to do what is best for young people. Every day teachers are showing up and making hundreds of decisions about how to meet the needs of their unique students. Teachers are studying data, collaborating with colleagues, and most importantly working directly with students to make the best possible decisions about their learning.

There are things to fear when it comes to public schools. Voters should be afraid that the current trend of attacking and threatening teachers and public schools will lead to massive teacher shortages. Voters should be afraid that continuing to fund schools at a rate that doesn’t keep up with the increased costs they face will lead to programs being cut and more schools being closed. Voters should be afraid that laws to restrict what can be taught in our schools will lead to teachers take the easy route and simply ask students to do less critical thinking, be less creative, and take fewer intellectual risks. Voters should be afraid that large numbers of students will no longer feel safe in one of the places they should feel the most safe.

I’m asking you, as voters, to vote for serious people. I’m begging you to avoid believing silliness. I’m asking you to listen to professionals who are actually doing the work and are telling you what our schools need. Because, unless the governor, the president of the Iowa senate, and the leotard lady have an army of people ready to take over the jobs that me and my colleagues are currently showing up every day to do, we really will have a crisis.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Teachers

Dear Teachers,

I hope everyone has had a great summer. If you are like me, last year was difficult. I struggled to pinpoint exactly what made last year so challenging, but by the end of the school year last year, I was so very tired. This summer has been a chance to recharge my batteries a little bit. I’ve taken a couple of great courses in order to build some new skills and I’ve been reading a lot of articles and listening to a lot of podcasts about teaching and learning. I’m coming into this school year ready to give my students the best that I’ve got to give.

That’s the thing, all of us are going to give the students who show up in our classrooms the best we have. This time of year is a great example of giving what we have. School doesn’t officially start for me for another couple of weeks, but I can promise you that the school is abuzz with teachers in their rooms setting up chairs and tables, checking out class rosters, filling their rooms with supplies (many of which they buy themselves), and they are focusing on their incoming students. In talking to my colleagues I can tell you that early August brings a sense of anticipation and excitement for teachers, but also a sense of anxiety and doubt. We’re excited about the prospect of hundreds of new faces showing up in our classrooms, but we also recognize that each year brings challenges that are out of our control. I spend a lot of time trying to fight off my anxiety as I do my best to be ready for things that I control.

In the midst of the energy and excitement of schools getting ready to open, there is a Bizarro World that exists mostly in the world of the right-wing media. In that Bizarro World teachers are bad people trying to indoctrinate our students. It’s unclear exactly what we are trying to indoctrinate them into, but it involves doing CRT to them, putting litter boxes in bathrooms, spending a lot of time trying to get them to change their pronouns, and grooming, oh so much grooming. Sadly, the Bizarro World does sometimes intersect with the real world. The intersection typically occurs in legislatures filled with people who don’t have the first idea of what is actually happening in real classrooms. In Nebraska, super smart legislator Bruce Bostelman went to the floor of the Nebraska statehouse to demand that schools explain why they were providing litter boxes to students who identified as dogs and cats. Super smart legislator guy had done his own research on Facebook and demanded answers from school leaders. School leaders met with the super smart legislator and told him it wasn’t true. None of it. It was completely made up. So, no big deal right? Super smart legislators get things wrong sometimes. Well, a month later, a genius level Iowa legislator named Tim Kraayenbrink told his constituents that “they” were requiring schools to put kitty litter boxes in the bathroom, and that it was happening in Iowa ON A REGULAR BASIS, but no one knows about it because the media doesn’t cover it. Much like the super smart Nebraska legislator, the genius Iowa legislator was just making it all up in order to stir up a room full of uninformed voters who trusted him for some reason.

It’s funny right? Those silly conservatives are just makin’ stuff up to rile up their voters; God love ’em. But here’s the thing…that’s the narrative (along with the lie that CRT is being taught in our classrooms, the idea that teachers are coaching kids to change genders, that schools are regularly hosting drag shows during story hour, the myth that parents can’t get access to classroom materials, and so much more) that leads right wing activists to bring legislators into our districts and threaten to lock up teachers. These insane narratives lead legislators to propose legislation to put cameras in all of our classrooms (I’m on record as being fine with it…the intonation issues my band sometimes encounters would make for good television), it leads to legislation that would restrict student access to materials that these super intelligent legislators deem as too controversial, and maybe most notably these narratives lead to legislators shifting money from public schools (where kids are using litter boxes in Bizarro World) to private for-profit schools where, one would assume, there aren’t litter boxes. Actually, Iowa just announced that they would send $1,000,000 of our tax dollars to a small private school that was failing. This is months after the legislature made it clear that times are tough and public schools were given an increase in funding that did not keep up with the fixed costs that they face (even though Iowa has a surplus of over $1.2 BILLION).

So my teacher friends, what does this mean to all of us? First, we all know that this unprecedented attack on our profession is leading to a shortage of people to fill teaching jobs. To be clear, There isn’t a shortage of teachers, there is a shortage of teachers who are willing to take jobs in this climate. The shortage of people to fill these jobs makes our jobs harder. Bigger class sizes, more coverage from us for classes that would otherwise go uncovered, and resources stretched thinner and thinner. I wish I had answers that would be helpful as we get ready for the year.

But, let me share this. Your best is good enough. If you’re doing what is best for your students when they’re in your room, you’re doing it right. It’s OK for you to go home without a bag full of work sometimes. Don’t base your value on what the teacher next door is or isn’t doing. Young teachers, check in on the veterans in your building to see how we’re doing. Veteran teachers, check in on the young teachers in your building to make sure they’re doing OK. Lastly, to all teachers, don’t be afraid to share the truth about our public schools. The truth is that our public schools aren’t perfect, but I’ll tell you what, the truth of our public schools is that young people show up every day and an army of professionals (teachers, custodians, secretaries, associates, administrators, lunchroom staff, bus drivers and so many more) meet them at the door and we do our best to make them safe, help them build confidence, help them to become critical thinkers, strong communicators, creators, and to be flexible as they face a rapidly changing world. Our willingness to share the real narrative is critical in fighting the Bizarro World narrative that exists in the ever growing right wing media universe.

I hope everyone gets one last chance to take a deep breath before the young people show up in the coming days. I am proud to be a teacher because the people I work with are smart, talented, dedicated, and have big hearts. Thank you for all that you do and keep telling our story!

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Your Colleague

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Ms. DeJear

Dear Ms. DeJear,

It was an honor to vote for you yesterday in the primary. Like my parents, you chose Iowa to be your home. In the 1970’s they came to Iowa because they wanted to raise me and my brother here. Governor Bob Ray and Iowa legislators were committed to making Iowa’s public schools the best in the country. Young professionals like my parents were attracted to Iowa’s commitment to education.

As a Drake alum, I’m very happy that you found Drake and Iowa to be a welcoming place to lay down some roots. If Iowa is going to thrive into the future, it is going to be important that smart, talented, and caring people like you see Iowa as a place where they feel good about settling down. I fear that the Iowa that attracted my parents and the Iowa that brought you here is in danger of disappearing.

Your opponent has waged a war on public schools in our state. Where Bob Ray’s legacy was a public schools system that was the envy of every other state in the nation, your opponent’s legacy will be years of underfunding schools and attacks on teachers. Iowans have made it clear that they don’t want their tax dollars diverted into the pockets of those who profit from private schools. Yet, your opponent continues to align herself with lobbyists from out of state who flood our state with money to support the private school industry. Just last night she made sure that four Republican candidates for the statehouse who dared to represent the interests of their constituents rather than bow to her anti-public school agenda were defeated by steering tens of thousands of out of state dollars to opponents that will simply be sycophants to the governor.

Those who wish to divide us as a state will try to spin a narrative that this election will be about urban vs. rural, white vs. black, young vs. old, but that isn’t true. I’m a sweaty middle-aged guy who has lived most of his life in Iowa and I stand with you Ms. DeJear. This election is going to be about who we are as Iowans. You are the candidate of the Iowa that brought my parents here 50 years ago. You are the candidate of building up our public schools. 50 years ago Governor Ray welcomed the Tai Dam refugees to Iowa and we are stronger because of it. You are the candidate that will make Iowa a place that will make Iowa welcoming to hard working people who want a better life for themselves and their families.

This election is going to be hard. Your opponent will lean into divisiveness. She will embrace all of the hateful buzzwords that create a negative narrative around our public schools. Your opponent will try to scare Iowans about immigration, ignoring all of the valuable work that they do and all of the vibrant culture that they bring to our state. She will embrace the out of state lobbyists who fund her campaign and write all of the legislation that she promotes.

Please know that there are many Iowans, just like myself, who still believe in the best of Iowa. We believe that, with support, Iowa’s schools can be the best in the nation. We believe that public money should stay in our public schools. We believe that Iowa’s strength is our combination of rural communities and urban cities. We believe that Iowa will only thrive if we are welcoming to smart, talented, and caring young people who see a future in a state where everyone has a chance to be successful.

I am hopeful that you’ll be able to continue to take the high road in your campaign, but I want you to call out the lies, the hate, and the negativity that will be coming your way. Focus on the vision for a better future that I know you will fight for, while also being very clear about the divisiveness that your opponent has created during her time in office.

There is an army of Iowans who are here to support you Ms. DeJear. We have your back. We share your vision of the Iowa that brought my parents here and that brought you here. We need to work for an Iowa that will make us all want to stay and be better for our children and their children. I believe in Iowa and I believe in you.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Iowan

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Don Jr.,

I woke up this morning to see that you shared some “thoughts” on the recent shooting in Uvalde, TX. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/donald-trump-jr-not-the-gun-the-sociopath-killer-bat-uvalde_n_6292d4eae4b0b1d98456ec57). After trying not to fixate on all of your twitchy gestures, dilated pupils, and red face, I tried to make sense of your rant. Your premise seems to be that “crazy teachers” and “indoctrination programs” are to blame for school shootings.

I’m curious Don, were the two teachers in that classroom, who tried to shield their students from the assault rifle fired by the gunman “crazy”? Did the killer interrupt a lesson plan that was a part of their daily “indoctrination program”? I’m shocked that your rant didn’t include the latest favorite slander against teachers and call us all “groomers”. It didn’t even take 24 hours after the horrific Uvalde shooting for local conservative media here in Iowa to continue to describe educators as “groomers”, while teachers went back to school willing to protect their students in the same way that those courageous teachers in Texas did.

You seem very concerned that people will try to make it harder for murderers to get their hands on assault rifles, so you and others like you create some interesting causes for school shootings that include anything other than easy access to high powered weapons. Along with “crazy teachers”, I’ve seen blame attached to video games, “wokeness”, CRT, lack of religion, and so much more. And don’t just think that your friends are only coming up with causes for gun violence that don’t include guns, people like your dad even come up with solutions. Did one of the brainiacs who work for your dad come up with his innovative plan for doors that lock from the inside, or did he come up with that one on his own (https://www.axios.com/2022/05/27/trump-nra-meeting-houston-uvalde-elementary)?

There are a lot of things that we can observe as we go from school shooting to school shooting. Very observable, and maybe predictable, to me this time was how fast people like you started to blame teachers. I’ve spent seven years documenting the assault on public education in my state and it is unsurprising that those intent on waging a culture war would go after teachers in the moments after a school shooting.

Every teacher has played out the scenario of what they would do to protect their students from a shooter on their campus. On Friday, good friends of mine had an unexpected fire alarm go off at their school in the morning. Each one of them, as they led their students out to the location where they account for their students, said that their immediate concern, after being sure their students were safe, was to identify where a shooter might be hiding as hundreds of staff and students walked out of the building. All of us “crazy teachers” now regularly have to think about what our reaction will be to someone shooting at our students.

Don, teachers aren’t the problem. All of the teachers in Uvalde are heroes. Every account I’ve read of the horrific attack includes brave teachers placing themselves where people with body armor and guns refused to place themselves. Those “crazy teachers” put themselves in harms way to protect their students. During the next school shooting there will be more “crazy teachers” ready to protect more young people from a criminal with a gun that they easily got their hands on.

I’ve spent a year where legislators have stood in my district and threatened to arrest teachers for doing their jobs. This year I had local conservative “media” plaster my picture on their web site because I expressed an opinion on cameras in the classroom (I was all for it), which led to harassment from people who kind of knew how to construct a sentence. I’ve spent this year watching local legislators tell their constituents that our schools are full of litter boxes to serve students who identify as cats. I’m spending this spring watching a lot of really talented colleagues walk away from a profession that they care deeply about. And I’ve spent quite a bit of time in recent years watching politicians, members of the media, and whatever it is you are Don (frankly a guy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple), insulting teachers on a regular basis. I just don’t know what the end game is. The teacher shortage that is coming at us is going to be a doozy Don and the only thing I’m sure of is that you aren’t going to be any part of the solution. There are real problems in our country and it is going to require serious people to take action to solve them. Frankly, I’m embarrassed that I get focused on carnival barkers such as yourself, yet I feel that it’s important to expose the insanity. I need to do a better job of highlighting serious people who are actually interested in solutions. We can do better, and I truly hope that we do better, but it is noise from people like you that make the work of keeping young people safe so much harder.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Governor Branstad (A 3rd Attempt)

Written April 13, 2015

Dear Governor Branstad,

I have tried a couple of times to contact you in the last week or so to no success.  I was hoping we might correspond prior to April 15th when Iowa school districts need to certify their budgets for the 2015-2016 school year, but it appears that you must be too busy.  I won’t bother you any more after today’s letter, since it will be too late to have any impact.

My superintendent sent out a note today to inform our community that we are beginning the process of cutting $350,000 from our 2015-2016 budget.  I can’t find anyone in my community who can identify $350,000 in superfluous staff and programs, but that’s what we have to do.  I am confident that our school board, administrators, staff, and entire community will spend a great deal of time trying to do what we can to minimize the impact of these cuts on our students, but our students will no doubt see an impact.

It just seems hard to rationalize a state that has a $319 million dollar surplus (beyond the $700 million surplus we are required to maintain) not funding our public schools beyond the rate of inflation.  It is also worth noting that much of your 1.25% proposed increase is tied up in supporting the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system.  Former Iowa Director of Education Jason Glass has said clearly that the money identified for the TLC program was never intended to supplant other K-12 educational funding.  Republican legislators are telling me that we simply can’t be certain that future revenues will be able to sustain more educational spending long term.  If that is the case, why did Republican legislators commit to long term tax relief?  Are you watching what is happening in Kansas?

61% of increased state aid to schools since 2011 has been to replace other funding streams or provide new categorical funding and does not help to pay for increases in district costs from year to year such as compensation and utilities.  The percent of funding for school districts coming from the state General Fund has slid from 45.7% in 2011 to 40.9% in your proposal for 2016.  These statistics seem inconsistent with a governor who claims to want Iowa to have world class schools.

You know these numbers and at the end of the day I guess my real frustration is that there is an unwillingness to compromise.  I don’t have claim to have all of the answers, but I do think there is a place for true leaders to build consensus.  Yet, here is what I read Republican lawmakers saying:

http://www.nonpareilonline.com/news/local/gop-education-funding-can-go-no-higher/article_3f65fdd0-cfa2-50bd-9cd3-140665110ef9.html

Representative Forristall (who I communicated with several times today) says there is zero chance that there will be a compromise.  A zero percent chance?  Is that leadership?  This editorial from the Cedar Rapids Gazette speaks to your current leadership style:

http://thegazette.com/subject/opinion/branstad-knows-whats-best-20150409

It is too late to have a real dialogue about education or school funding for the 2015-2016 school year with legislators. I promise that my colleagues and I are having daily conversations about how to make our schools better next year.  We are studying high yield strategies that we believe, when instituted with fidelity, will increase student achievement and teacher effectiveness.  My building will have more students and less staff next year, yet we will do our best to do more with less.  I invite you to actually work to lead Iowa to educational greatness.  If your agenda is to crush teacher unions or increase charter schools and the privatization of education in Iowa, say so.  If that’s not your plan, offer one.  Bring educational leaders together to figure out how current legislative action can be cohesively woven into a real plan for better schools in Iowa.  I promise that, if invited, school leaders will come to the table.

There is a divisive tone in our state when we talk about education these days.  I’m not really sure why and it is entirely possible that I am serving to contribute to that division.  It has been suggested that, by virtue of being a teacher, I am not objective when I talk about education.  It’s a confusing notion to me.  I have a great doctor and I’m not concerned that he tells me that he is an MD when he gives me medical advice.  He has dedicated his life to medicine and I presume his education and experience will help me make reasonable medical decisions.  Somehow my 25 years of teaching experience and education degree don’t afford me the same respect in my field?  We need to start a dialogue with legislators, teachers, parents, and students from all over Iowa that brings people together.

My school board is meeting at this very moment to wrestle with the realities of the inaction of Iowa’s legislators.  Who is to blame?  Who cares?  Our school board and administrators are preparing a plan that leaves our students with fewer resources.  That’s a simple fact.  It doesn’t appear that anything I would say would change your mind or the mind of your fellow Republican legislators.  Zero chance for a compromise.  It just seems wrong to me.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Governor Branstad

Written April 4, 2015

Dear Governor Branstad,

I hope you are feeling well, I hear that you have been a little under the weather lately.  I am writing to see if you can pass on a message to your fellow Republicans at the statehouse.  I have tried to contact Speaker Paulsen and I’m not sure he’s getting my messages.  I know you are busy man, so I will do my best to keep this fairly short.

I have been a teacher in Iowa since 1990.  I have taught in private and public schools.  I have taught in small and large school districts.  The relationship between legislators and educators in Iowa has changed a lot during that time.  I am not exactly sure why.  Tell me if I’m wrong, but if feels like education in Iowa has become more politicized in the last 25 years.  When you became governor in 1983 Iowa was considered a national leader in education.  It doesn’t feel like that is true any more does it?  Is it possible that there is a relationship between the politicization of education in Iowa and our national standing in this area?

So, you proposed a 1.25% increase in education spending this year while state revenue has increased 6% and you have asked for a 9% increase for your office.  I assume that you asked for a 9% increase for your office because you believe that increased resources will lead to increased results.  I have also heard you say many times that you want our schools to be world class.  So do I.  But, here’s where I get lost.  How is it that schools operate under a different set of rules than your office (or any other organization)?  Wouldn’t it hold true that our schools might be helped by an increase in resources that at least keeps up with inflation?

I get the impression that members of your party believe that teachers are to blame for “bloated” school budgets.  I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I’m confused why there aren’t more people breaking down the doors of our schools to earn the luxurious salaries that myself and my colleagues are collecting.  Are there parents and students in your office telling you that they want fewer activities, athletics, and arts programs in their schools, because these are the things that are the first to go when school funding doesn’t keep up with inflation.  Are our schools filled with superfluous staff and programs?  Can you show any evidence of that?  Is every school district in Iowa lying to you when they say that our schools will lose ground if you pass a 1.25% increase in funding?

I swear to you Governor Branstad that I want to understand.  Those of us who have dedicated our lives to education want to have a conversation with legislators from your party.  If you have a plan that spells out how you are going to encourage the next generation of teachers to enter this profession with an expectation to improve results with fewer resources I am eager to hear it.  To be frank, it just feels like your party doesn’t care for my profession.  I apologize for anything we did to cause that.  We are here to start a dialogue about how we make our schools better for kids.  If there is a way to do it with fewer resources we are all ears.  But, if the answer is that you need 9% to improve your office, but we have to do it with 1.25% then it’s all going to a confusing conversation on our end.  Iowa Republicans have to offer a better answer than to tell us to be world class, but do it with per pupil spending that doesn’t match the national average in a time when our state is financially stable.

It feels as though wealthy businesses and our state’s tourism industry find a way to make their case in your office.  It feels like those of us who spend our days working with Iowa’s young people have a harder time catching your attention.  The fact that your primary education advisor never spent a moment working in a school might be part of the problem.  I’m asking you to carve out some time with educators who are in the trenches to find out what is really happening in our schools.

Let me be clear.  I love my job.  I get paid fairly.  I also work a lot of hours and dedicate a lot of energy to help my students become more creative, more inquisitive, and more successful.  With that being said, my job (and the jobs of my colleagues) haven’t become easier in recent years.  The truth is that, while I would think it was a bad idea, I would rather you just told us that you are OK with Iowa being a haven for educational mediocrity based on your funding proposal.  If it makes you feel better, I’ll accept more mediocrity from your office if you don’t take a budget increase for your office the coming year.

My final question for you is this, do you feel like you are doing all you can for the young people of Iowa?  I can tell you that I’m doing all I can for my students.  Democratic legislators have made considerable efforts to compromise.  It is time for you to lead Mr. Governor.  Once this legislative session is over I would then ask you to be true to your word when you say you want our schools to be world class and begin a real dialogue with those of us who work in Iowa’s schools to discuss how we can return Iowa to it’s rightful place as a leader in education like it was when you took office and when I started my career.  That will start when we realize that education shouldn’t be a political issue.  As a kid who grew up in Iowa I felt that a great education was my birthright.  It should be my son’s birthright as well.  It’s time to lead Mr. Governor.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Senator Kraayenbrink

Dear Senator Kraayenbrink,

Just checking, were you quoted accurately here? “Not in the Fort Dodge district, but in my Senate district, they’re requiring these schools to put kitty litter boxes in the bathroom,” he said. “The thing is, these things are happening in Iowa on a regular basis and nobody knows about it, because the media doesn’t cover these things.” It seems as though you are claiming that schools in Iowa are “regularly” putting litter boxes out for students. But wait senator, my favorite part of the article is when the media asks you to elaborate on this fantastic accusation you’ve made against public schools and the media. “To follow up with you concerning your question, I had a conversation with a parent in the school district I was alluding to several months ago, which I took as confidential. I have not verified that conversation with school officials. With that being said, I wouldn’t feel comfortable identifying the district.” So, it went from something that happens regularly in public schools across Iowa, to a single parent who told you something several months ago that you aren’t able to verify.

Here’s the thing senator. You’re a liar. In a public setting, in your position as a state senator, you authoritatively stated that schools across Iowa are putting down litter boxes for students to use. You didn’t say that you heard a rumor that it was happening, you said that it was happening on a regular basis and that the media refused to report it. You can’t name the district (or any district) where this happens because it doesn’t happen. You’re a liar. Why lie? Well, you’re trying to get your Iowa House colleagues to act against the will of their constituents to send public dollars to private schools. You believe that by scaring uninformed voters about public schools where kids are using litter boxes that they will support vouchers. You’re also stirring hatred and you know it.

It seems shocking that a state senator would be dumb enough to believe that this kind of thing is true. What is maybe less shocking is that you’re not the first Midwest senator stupid enough to repeat these lies (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/nebraska-lawmaker-apologizes-debunked-litter-box-claim-rcna21951). To the Nebraska guys credit, he apologized for repeating this garbage.

Iowa needs to have real conversations about public education. The problem is that you aren’t interested in real conversations. You want to scare people with lies about what is happening in our public schools. You and the governor want to have meetings behind closed doors where you figure out how to send your constituent’s tax dollars to private schools with no accountability. It has become clear that we aren’t in a place where we can have thoughtful conversations about public education in Iowa. If you’ll lie about something as obviously false as litter boxes in schools, what else will you lie about? It’s obvious that you and the governor will say anything to do the bidding of people like Betsy DeVos and the out of state big money donors who you serve.

Many people prefer that teachers keep their mouths shut when it comes to discussing the politics of education. I refuse. I won’t allow legislators to lie about what is happening in our schools. I’ll tell the truth about the hard work that happens in our public schools. I’ll tell the truth about great young people working to grow each and every day. I’ll tell the truth about my colleagues who take care of every young person who walks through their doors.

Iowa deserves better than your lies senator.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher