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.
Patrick J. Kearney