April 30, 2015 in Iowa

People across Iowa will wear pink tomorrow in support of teachers who will or have already received pink slips due to legislative inaction.  I don’t own anything that is pink (I used to, but I have gone into a very earth tone clothing phase), but I’ll do my best to try to pull off a red striped shirt that come across as pink in the right light.

I know teachers and support staff who are receiving pink slips tomorrow and my district is making over $400,000 in cuts in order to deal with our legislature’s lack of investment in education.   The ACT reports that fewer high school students than ever are interested in going into teaching.

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_now/2015/04/fewer-students-report-wanting-to-teach-study.html

I have spent time in recent weeks trying to be an advocate for compromise.  It isn’t easy to admit failure, but it is obvious that there won’t be compromise.  I had a Republican legislator reference me saying that I was “wrong” in my writing on school funding. Yet, after saying I was “wrong” he admitted that Republican legislators are using large amounts of tax dollars (80% of next year’s state revenue growth) for corporate property tax relief.  He wrote that the state simply couldn’t afford more than a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding, yet state budget experts say that we have $717 million in state reserves and don’t even need to touch our state surplus in order to support education spending and still balance the budget.  He said he didn’t have any problems with teachers, but it sure seemed crazy that those darned teacher unions were asking for 4% salary increases (although Iowa teachers make at least $5000 less than the national average).  He admitted that the 1.25% growth included money from the governor’s Teacher Leadership Compensation plan that was never intended to be included in SSA (what used to be allowable growth).  I was perplexed as to what I have said that is wrong.  I’m not even saying Republican legislators are “wrong”, I’m simply saying that I disagree with their priorities.  I disagree that losing over 1000 teaching positions in Iowa make Iowa schools better.  I disagree that our money is better spent on corporate tax loop holes and corporate property tax relief than on education.

So, to the Republican legislators who read my blog (and I am keenly aware that there a number who do) I want to believe that you want what is best for Iowa’s young people.  Share how that happens as you bring austerity to Iowa’s schools.  If you want charter schools and privatization, please say that.  If you want to break up teacher unions, please say that.  If you believe that Kansas is a model for how to handle our state’s tax code, please say that.  If that’s not what you believe, tell us what you do believe.  Iowa’s educational experts have spoken and they believe that schools are going to struggle with a 1.25% increase in K-12 education spending (especially when state revenue is growing by 6%).  If there are educational experts who disagree with us, please tell them to step forward and offer solutions.

If you read my blog posts you will know that I say that the older I get the more I question the things I used to be sure that I knew.  My problem is with the mindset of our legislators who seem unwilling to break away from their talking points about what we “can’t afford”.  How about we talk about what CAN be done to make our schools “World Class”, rather than dismissing an entire profession who have dedicated their lives to education.  Teachers don’t go into education to become wealthy, which is largely different than those who are receiving the benefits of corporate tax relief.  Those folks do want to get rich, and good for them!  But, I’ll be honest, I’m a little tired of reading from Republican legislators that teachers are overpaid.  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t be OK with corporate executives wanting more money in their pockets, but those darn teachers are so greedy.

Like all things, politics and education policy exists as a pendulum.  Iowans are watching what is happening in Kansas and Wisconsin and if I were a Republican legislator I would be a little nervous about the marching orders and talking points that you are receiving.  Maybe I’m wrong, time will tell.  2014 was an interesting political year and our Republican legislators feel emboldened to enact a fairly radical agenda of tax cuts for those at the top of the food chain that is choking off state funding for many things, not just education.  They may be right (although there isn’t much historical evidence to back them up), but Iowans have a history of moderation and extreme agendas don’t have a history of being all that successful in Iowa.

I don’t think our Republican legislators are bad people.  I just disagree with them about what I care about and I what I think Iowans care about.  I am also a keen observer.  I see Kansas and I see a state in crisis.  I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that we aren’t going down that exact same path.  I am also a believer is honest conversations.  I have no secret agenda.  I think teachers should be paid more, not because I want to get rich, but because I want my best and brightest students to consider education as a viable career option.  My son is going into education and I couldn’t be prouder.  I just want him to be able to raise a family and be comfortable while he pursues his passion to teach.  I feel like our Republican legislators might have some agendas that they aren’t that excited about making public, but that’s just my opinion.

So, I’m going to wear the closest thing to pink I own tomorrow.  I am going to stand with the hundreds of Iowa teachers who are losing their jobs next year.  I’m also wearing it because I’m sad that there seems to be nothing that will create a real dialogue about what will help make our schools great in the Republican legislative caucus in Iowa. I am going to simply say what I have known as a lifelong Cubs fan, which is “wait until next year”.  The questions from your constituents aren’t going to stop and you are going to have to come up with some new answers.  Hold me to that promise!

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7 Comments

  1. I appreciate you challenging the Republicans to explain their agenda and their unwillingness to even talk about education funding. I believe they know what they are doing is out-of-touch with the priorities of the majority of Iowans and they are trying to hide who they are really representing. Keep those blogs coming Patrick! I will do my best to keep their feet to the fire until they come clean about their true intentions.

  2. My problem with all of this is how much hysteria there is surrounding all of this. I have lived in Iowa most of my life. I have 3 kids who have either graduated or are being educated in public schools. I have been fortunate to have been employed full time since graduating from college in 1989.
    Since entering the working world I have experienced ups and downs in terms of my annual income. Some years I have been very happy with my salary increase, other years we have had to take a pay freeze. Over time my salary has increased but not EVERY year.

    Regardless of what we may think the state should spend next year on education, we do allocate about 55% of our annual budget to education. Again we could argue about what an acceptable increase could or should be, but the reality is that number is going to be very low this year. Like it or not that’s the reality.

    With that said, why would anyone expect a 4% bump in salary? If that’s the number that the teachers association targets for this year why is anyone surprised at the number of pink slips being handed out this year?

    That approach is troubling to someone like me. If the union wants to truly look out for the teachers they would not use this approach. The money isn’t there and we all know it. So if the district is forced to comply their is no choice but to reduce employees. Unfortunately this hurts children and young teachers many of whom have kids themselves.

    It’s a vicious cycle that tends to pit teachers against one another and local school board members in the crossfire of trying to keep programming at an acceptable level and veteran teachers wanting to maximize their salaries

    This is very troubling and lends itself to being unsustainable. Sometimes more money can’t fix the problem. We would all like to have more money. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work out.

    I realize their are many in the education business that do not support tax cuts. In reality Iowa is not on the low end of the spectrum when looking at corporate tax rates. Like it or not these corporations employ a lot of people. 1 thing is certain, that if we don’t grow our population we will not have as many students. That will also lead to fewer teachers,schools etc.

    Bottom line is, I think that we all need to take a deep breath and work together on the local level. If everyone is realistic regarding spending authority all of the pink slips issued will not be necessary.. Not everyone will be happy short term,but long term at least we’re still in the game.

    • Thanks for being part of the conversation Gary. It all comes down to priorities. Teacher unions are simply made up of teachers who join together to create the best possible conditions for our schools. I know that’s not how some will see them, but that’s what they exist to do. Teacher unions aren’t able to enact any actions on their own. We are partners with our administrators, school boards, and communities in trying to provide the best possible conditions for great teaching and learning to exist. My salary is public record and I’m of the opinion that I earn every penny of it (as I am sure you do as well). I don’t know many employees who negotiate to have their salaries reduced or frozen, especially when their employer (in our case the state of Iowa) is seeing an increase in revenues (6% this year in Iowa). The difference is that we negotiate fairly publicly with our elected school boards and our salaries are publicly available. As I have said many times, I haven’t seen an army of more qualified educators breaking down the doors of schools to work for less money than those of us currently doing the work. If schools are able to hire the best and brightest for less money, they should do that.

      On the issue of state taxation issues I would just suggest that I don’t like what I see happening in a state like Kansas. I haven’t heard any of our Republican legislators articulate how we aren’t headed down that path.

      There is room for different opinions. I’m a fan of open and honest debate.

    • First, I believe that the Teacher Leadership Compensation program has the potential to be a game changer for schools in Iowa. It is worth noting that no one, other than the Governor, who was involved in the creation of that program believe that TLC funding should take the place of adequate basic school funding. Former Iowa Director of Education Jason Glass has been particularly clear on this topic. I also happen to believe (and it is just my opinion) that the Governor and his party have agendas that are not being openly discussed in these links or beyond. I think there is some evidence that our Republican legislators would like to see teacher unions broken up and would like to see more charter schools and school privatization. While it is obvious that I would not agree with these things, I do think that they should be part of an honest conversation about schools in Iowa. What I think is missing is an alternative from the Republicans other than austerity for Iowa Schools. It just doesn’t seem plausible that barely increasing school funding for years on end is going to lead to “World Class” schools. I can promise that teachers are having these conversations on a daily basis. While the Teacher Leadership and Compensation plan is a start, those who are serving as teacher leaders stand fairly united (in my conversations with teacher leaders from around Iowa) that without adequate resources, Iowa’s schools are going to struggle to improve.

      At the end of the day this, like all political decisions, is about priorities. Believing that it is important to reduce funds available for schools (and the many other things we want from our state) through tax breaks for corporations is one school of thought it is not one I agree with. Our current Governor is choosing to do this and time will tell if it is successful or not. My real hope is that everyone involved in this conversation continues to contribute honest ideas to the dialogue and that we stay focused on what is best for Iowa’s young people.

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