The Politics of Education

I love politics.  I have vivid memories of my Dad taking me to a Democratic caucus in 1984.  I remember being mad at my father for supporting Walter Mondale.  I couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t be supporting George McGovern in that race.  I also love education.  I always loved going to school.  I have said in previous posts that teachers were my heroes.  But, to be honest, I was never really interested in having those two things mix.

My memory may be mistaken, but it feels like education in Iowa wasn’t highly politicized when I was a young teacher.  Iowans were very proud of their schools and particularly proud of how independent and locally controlled Iowa schools were.  At some point education became much more highly politicized.  I don’t think anyone would argue that making our schools a political hot potato has made them better.

Here is the thing,  I’m not sure I have all of the answers to make our schools better.  I am someone who can argue the merits of Common Core, but still have reservations about whether or not it is entirely effective.  I am a related arts teacher who also understands that our students need as much of a foundation in “core” subjects as possible.  I am not sure that standardized tests tell us much when it comes to what I truly value in education and yet I recognize that we have to find ways to measure student progress.concerns me is that so many people who have not spent any time in a classroom are sure they know what is best for our schools.  I have been a professional educator for 25 years and I don’t have all the answers.  But, there are some things that I do know.  First, our schools are not filled with unnecessary staff and programs that are throwing away taxpayer dollars.  I look around the schools I come in contact with and they are filled with programs that enrich students in so many ways.  I also know that many of our legislators seem to believe that greedy teachers are causing bloated school budgets.  I’m just not buying it.  If there are teachers who went into this profession to get rich, I haven’t met them.  Yet, the impression that teachers are overcompensated is a fixture of those who don’t support increased school funding.  My salary is publicly available, as are the salaries of all public educators.  Everyone knows what we are making, so if teachers are overcompensated in relation to the work we do, why is it that our colleges aren’t bursting with more students clamoring to enter the glamorous world of education?

It is frustrating that every piece of education legislation is simply looked at as black and white by our legislators.  Our legislators simply take their marching orders from their party leadership and don’t move off their talking points.  There seems to be no real conversations about the merits of any of these policies, simply a recitation of ideas viewed from a single lens.  I’m as guilty of it as anyone I suppose.  Here’s the thing though, those who believe schools are over funded, those who believe that teachers are overpaid, and those who believe that schools are failing aren’t stepping forward and getting their feet wet in trenches.  If there are teachers out there who don’t believe schools could use 4% more funding to offer more and better opportunities for kids I haven’t met them.  When every school district in Iowa says that a 1.25% growth rate will make it harder to serve students why won’t legislators listen?  I can’t find people who don’t want their kids to have opportunities in school clubs, athletics, and in the arts.  Yet, these are the things that we will lose if school funding doesn’t keep up with inflation.

I wish I could go back in time to the moment when schools and teachers lost the confidence of many of our legislators.  I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I wish I could go to that moment in time and invite them into our classrooms.  I think they would have seen then, as they would now, that teachers and schools are doing all they can to maximize resources.  Our time and energy are spent trying to help students grow.  There aren’t any other motives in play.  Yet, I fear that it is too late now to make that case.  There are those are simply unwilling to believe that to be true.

So, here is my challenge to those who have taken the political view that our schools are bloated and that teachers are greedy.  Step up.  Figure out a way to get more out of our schools with less resources and do it.  Figure out a way to convince the next generation of education leaders to take on these jobs for less money, do the job with less resources, and improve our schools with more legislative intrusion and less local control.  Those of us who are currently doing the job have shared what we think is best and many of our current legislators don’t seem to agree with us.  That’s fair I suppose, but my challenge still stands; step up.  I swear to you that I’m not 100% sure that what I believe is right, but I promise you that what teachers are saying is what they believe to be truly best for our young people and for our state.

I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising that education has become just another partisan political issue, it’s just sad though, isn’t it?

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3 Comments

  1. This is really fine article Pat, and sums the situation up pretty well. I can’t figure out why the funding for schools is being being drug out; especially when it’s against Iowa law to do it as long as it’s been going on this session. The Republicans really want to smack the Democrats with this since the Dems are so passionate about giving our kids the best possible education we can. Close the tax loopholes and we’ll have plenty of money for our students.
    Thanks for writing these. I hope you send this on to legislators.

  2. Thanks again for a well written and thought out piece. Sometimes I think it’s also a case of the lack of common sense in setting our priorities. Keep up the great work and enjoy the rest of the spring semester.

  3. Why aren’t schools funded properly? Simply, the controlling political party doesn’t value public education. They’re more worried about low tax rates above all else, even at the expense of our children’s education, and I would argue, our communities. Elections matter.

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