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.
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!