A Reponse from Speaker Paulsen….and my reply

This post will bury my recent post on teaching strategies I suspect, but I guess that’s how it goes.  Iowa Speaker Kraig Paulsen did respond to my note to him today.  I want to thank him for that and give him credit for taking the time to respond.  I will include his note to me and my response to him below.  The simple truth is that he seems committed to holding funding at a 1.25% increase for our schools.  I continue to believe that my reading of the state’s financial situation leads me to believe Iowa can do better.  I encourage people to continue to make their voices heard.  Our Republican lawmakers are enamored with massive budget cuts and tax breaks for large businesses. I would encourage everyone to study what is happening in Kansas to get a sense of what this does for state budgets.


I would also encourage you to read my friend Burton Hable’s assessment of what a 1.25% increase in state school aid will do to our school budgets.


Below is Representative Paulsen’s note to me and my response to him.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  Contrary to the preconceived notions you may have about me, I do appreciate hearing from Iowans on important issues facing our state, including school funding.

I would like to assure you, House Republicans and I have considered Democrats’ compromise funding plan, as well as several other plans.  This issue simply boils down to money, or lack thereof.  I’m sure you know by now, our current proposal combined with teacher leadership money is a $100 million commitment, over half of the $180 million in new revenue coming into the state is going to K-12 schools under the Republican plan.  The rest of Iowans’ priorities like Medicaid, economic development, and public safety have to fit within the remaining $80.9 million in revenue.  The increase in Medicaid alone is projected at over $200 million. There will be cuts in other areas of state government in order to be able to give schools the 1.25% increase in funding.

This commitment is a significant investment in our schools, gives administrators a level of funding they can count on and keeps Iowa taxpayers in mind.

Thanks again for your input.

My response:

Representative Paulsen,

I very much appreciate your response.  I do think that we need to continue have a dialogue about what Iowans value.  I would make three brief points.  First, many very bright people believe that there is money to fund education at level beyond a 1.25% increase.  Our ability to fund the things that Iowans believe are important (which includes education) is impacted by your caucus’s desire to cut taxes and create tax breaks for big business at an extreme level.  I would encourage you to study what is happening in Kansas as an example of what happens when taxes are slashed.  Second, the teacher leadership money was never intended to supplant basic school funding (ask former Department of Education Director Jason Glass).  I serve as a Lead Teacher at Johnston High School and the program is already paying benefits, but those gains will be negated when we lose programs and classroom teaching staff because funding is not keeping up with inflation.  Lastly, there needs to be a real dialogue about how schools are going to get better in Iowa when we are not keeping up with per pupil spending.  I guess a part of me simply wants Republicans to admit that you are willing to accept mediocrity in our schools.  Like every organization, it takes resources to supply our communities with what they have come to expect from us (and what legislators demand from us).  If we want to improve highway infrastructure we have to pay (and I will willingly pay).  If our tourism industry wants to make more money we change the school start date so that they can have more cash in their pockets.  Republicans somehow believe that schools can do more with less.  It doesn’t compute Mr. Speaker.

The people of Iowa want you to move past 1.25%.  You know it is possible and the elected officials of the Iowa Senate have proposed a perfectly reasonable compromise.  You say you appreciate hearing from Iowans.  Listen to them.  If you are getting an avalanche of people telling you that schools should be laying off teachers, cutting arts programs, and generally offering fewer options to their students then I will say that I’ve misread my fellow Iowans, but I suspect that isn’t the case.  I suspect Iowans are telling you to push beyond 1.25%.  I’m begging you to listen.

I do appreciate your taking the time to respond and my offer to serve as an ambassador to more substantial conversation about the future of education in Iowa stands.  I am a person who believes in consensus.  Iowans want world class schools and that is going to take all of our efforts and it certainly requires more than lip service from legislators.  Be a leader.  Leaders listen and leaders seek consensus.  It is what you surely want from teachers, and it is what we want from you.


Patrick J. Kearney
Lead Teacher, Instrumental Music Instructor, Johnston High School



  1. Patrick, what kind of society or administration wages war on police officers?

    The big question is why can’t teachers teach students to spell correctly? I have had college graduates give me an application with incorrectly spelled words. Why is that Patrick? That has nothing to do with throwing more money at the issue or bringing politics into education which sir is exactly what you are guilty of.

    As I always told managers you need to look in the mirror and see the problem. You are part of the problem.

    I hope you have a nice day.

  2. Thank you Mr. Kearney for your passionate and articulate letters. I appreciate educators who speak not only their minds, but those of educators around the state. I keep asking “if it’s no and the GOP will not budge, why don’t they try to find a solution?”

  3. Hi Pat. Perhaps some have been out of the classroom too long. Perhaps they should be invited to spend a day or more in the classroom and school and see the different personalities and learning styles/disorders that exist. I once offered a parent to do such and they couldn’t turn me down fast enough because of “how busy they were.”
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Great job. You are a role model for your students and all of us. Our state needs to return to being known for a high achieving workforce rather than dirty water and anti-immigrant sound bites.

  5. I am a first year teacher and would like to thank you for speaking out. We give our hearts to these kids every day only to hear that we aren’t meeting standards. “Beef up the core” and many other comments circulate teachers daily. We all have our complaints and yet so many go unheard. I greatly appreciate you speaking out for those (such as myself ) who wish to but feel they lack the experience to be taken seriously. We are the front line to make a difference and we will be the ones to help shape future generations. It is thanks to people like you speaking out that we may have a chance to shape Iowa’s education system into what every child deserves.

  6. How much money does it take to simply fix this problem then? Why are you comparing increase to a very large population (iowa schools) with an increase to a very small population (Branstead’s office) with percentages rather than sums? Who should we tax more? Which state programs should we cut more to provide your unspecified problem solving % increase? I encourage you to look at the history of Illinois giving public workers more than they can afford and all the problems in public sector performance that solved. How much money do you make to work 9 months out of the year? One of my best friends is a teacher. He’s leaving education because he’s tired of working with grouchy teachers who have never had a job outside of education complaining about what they make and how hard they have to work to get it. That and dealing with over-litigious parents and politically correct “us vs. them” political jackasses that fuel them. Make the tax payers believe that you care about accountability and actually have a plan to achieve it and we’ll talk about salary. Until then take your across-the-board union pay increases, summers and half-Thursdays off and cry me a river.

    • I certainly hope that it doesn’t come off as crying on my part. I am clear that I make a fair salary and that I love my job. I simply use Mr. Branstad’s proposal to increase his office’s budget as an example because I assume he believes it will result in better productivity. As for specific proposals, I believe that we need more resources devoted to early childhood intervention, more alternative and apprentice programs for secondary students, and I believe that, in order to attract the best possible young people into our profession that we need to continue to offer competitive salaries. My salary is a public record and that’s just fine with me, but if you think that teachers work 40 hours a week and lounge by the pool deck in June, July, and August you are getting some bad information. I’ve got a summer calendar of time spent with students and developing professionally that keeps me pretty busy. I continue to come back to the question that, if these jobs are so luxurious, where is the army of people who are wishing to take them and do them better for less money? At the end of the day my colleagues and myself have dedicated our lives to this profession and we will defend it while we work to do better for our young people. I spend a lot of my day working on strategies to make myself a better teacher and plans to make my school better. I hold myself very accountable to my community and mostly to the students I work with. I am proud to be a teacher and I am proud to defend the hard work that goes on every day in my building. There may be many answers to improving our schools, but slowly choking off funding, which will result in fewer staff and fewer programs that our communities have come to expect, is not the answer.

  7. Pat, I really appreciate your passion for schools and teachers in the state of Iowa and enjoy reading your thoughts. As a product of JHS and Iowa schools I want to see that continue and make an impact. I’ve been mulling over some numbers since reading your post and Speaker Paulsen’s reply and I’m not sure how much more money can be put into education at this time/while still maintaining a balanced budget (and even a surplus, I might add).

    I’m not an accountant and I’m not sure what all the numbers mean exactly but in my estimation 100mil for education out of 180mil is a pretty good chunk. If 100mil is only 1.25% then what would you like it to be? 2.5%? Then by nature, the state would be in the red with none of that money going to anything else. Not sure the point you’re trying to make about Gov. Branstad’s office and a 9% increase because that 9% could be 1 million of the 180million.

    All I’m trying to say is that at this time, I’m not sure if there is a significant additional amount of money that the state can put into education without going into debt. Branstad’s first term started with a 90m deficit, he left with 900m surplus, and returned after Vilsack and Culver with a 900m defecit, and now has a surplus again. We have to keep that budget balanced, surplussed, and growing in order to continually increase money for education or we’ll wind up in debt like our federal government. I surely don’t want to slash education and end up like Kansas, but I don’t believe that’s what’s happening. Is the budget proposal perfect? Absolutely not. But is it fair? Mostly (in my estimation). If my math is way off, I’d love to know that I’m way off base.

    Keep fighting for our schools, teachers, and kids. Much appreciated.


    Oh, and ending sentences in prepositions is an Iowa dialect. I do the same thing. It’s just our nature to. Right?


    • Kyle, thanks for your thoughtful reply. One part of the frustration of the current legislative decision is that there is considerable disagreement about the numbers. I would recommend this look at the numbers for another perspective. https://burhocky.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/an-update-on-educational-funding-and-start-dates-in-iowa/

      I use the numbers that Governor Branstad has proposed for his office to suggest that he believes that his office would be more effective with more resources. If he believes our schools can be more effective at 1.25%, imagine how much more effective we could be at 9%? Some have argued that there isn’t a correlation between increase in spending and achievement. If that is true, I am simply suggesting that the Governor could be more efficient in his office, just as he is asking schools to be. My last point is that our legislators have been busy cutting taxes and creating tax loopholes in recent years. At some point we have to decide if we want lower taxes or to fund public services at a rate that keeps up with inflation if nothing else.

      I really do appreciate your thoughtful and respectful reply Kyle. Johnston must have taught you well!

  8. By far one of the best teachers I ever had the enjoyment of working with. He pushes all students, not just those in his band class or in music theory. Though mr. Kearny never directly taught me all word he spoke where wise and still carry with me more then other teachers. He watches out for the best interest of the students.

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