|I got a response from the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor Linda Fandel last week (it is printed in it’s entirety below). This is the point in the blog where I point out that the education advisor has never done any work inside of a public school, but let’s move on from that observation, as interesting as it may be. Ms Fanel’s note states that the plan approved by both houses of the Iowa legislature that the Governor vetoed did not provide stability for Fiscal year 2017. That’s why he vetoed the $56 million dollars in spending for Fiscal Year 2016. Of course, state law says that the school spending bill should have been on his desk in February so that schools can certify their budgets by April 15th. That didn’t happen and he didn’t seem too concerned then. The bill was passed in early June and it sat on his desk for 27 days so that he could veto the school spending after 4 pm on the day before the July 4th holiday began for most Iowans (including the Governor). If stability for schools was the Governor’s priority, wouldn’t he have made himself active in the negotiations regarding school funding in January? If stability for schools was a priority to the Governor, wouldn’t he have signed or vetoed the bill as soon as possible when it got to his desk? Wouldn’t schools have wanted to know that BEFORE they began their fiscal years on July 1st? What I am saying is that for the Governor to veto this money under the guise of predictability and stability for schools is disingenuous.
Ms. Fandel’s response also includes references to the administration’s “reform efforts”. Specifically they site the Iowa TLC program for teacher leadership. In the interest of full disclosure my new job is funded entirely through TLC funds. I believe passionately that shared leadership in our schools has the power to transform education in Iowa. The TLC program was designed to supplement Supplemental State Aid (SSA), not supplant it. The Governor’s own task force begged him and Iowa legislators not to roll TLC money into the SSA (http://northiowatoday.com/2015/04/23/task-force-on-teacher-leadership-and-compensation-letter-to-governor-on-school-funding/comment-page-1/) and yet that is exactly what happened. The reality is that schools didn’t really receive 1.25% in SSA. They received a 1.25% in SSA that included money that must be used for the TLC grant. The practical result is that schools have less than 1% in new money to operate for fiscal year 2016. A quick Google search finds hundreds of school superintendents who are frustrated by the Governor’s actions (an example: http://www.osceolaiowa.com/2015/07/09/for-clarke-branstads-veto-just-doesnt-cut-it/agzmywx/). Clarke School’s superintendent Heid says that he visited with legislators numerous times explaining how funding beyond 1.25% would benefit his students. Numerous administrators, school board members, teachers, and students lobbied their legislators to say that the last five years have been lean for school funding and that, during times when state revenues are up 5% and we have close to a billion dollar surplus, this would be a perfect time to invest in education. The Governor didn’t listen. Well, to be fair, he must be listening to someone, and wouldn’t you like to know who? I would. Maybe he is listening to his education advisor (you know the one who has no background in education). Maybe he is listening to those in big business who are receiving massive tax breaks to build plants that will employ 11 people (http://qctimes.com/news/local/government-and-politics/iowa-fertilizer-plant-receives-m-more-in-state-incentives/article_4816b395-0c99-5a06-83fc-b7557e8c164d.html). Maybe he is listening to Governor Brownback of Kansas (http://www.allgov.com/news/top-stories/kansas-succeeds-in-driving-teachers-to-retire-or-leave-state-150715?news=856964).
The Governor’s big answer to Iowa’s schools is that they should become more efficient. (http://www.kcci.com/news/education-funding-becoming-more-partisan-school-leader-says/34148988) Of course, the Governor offers no specifics of how school’s are inefficient. In the above article the Waukee Superintendent points out that schools have already cut to the bone. What happens now is that students will be offered fewer choices, have larger class sizes, and work with older text books and equipment. But, it is important to note that the Governor wants world class schools. Well, at least that’s what Ms. Fandel’s note tells me.
There won’t be a special legislative session to override the Governor’s veto. He has made sure of that. So, the last seven months of “dialogue” that Iowans have had with our Governor and our legislators have led us to where we were when the Governor originally proposed his budget which included a 1.25% increased in SSA. If politics were a game that gets played, the Governor won. Over 1000 teachers were pink slipped, school programs have been cut, there will be fewer new books and new technology in school classrooms, the Iowa legislature is more dysfunctional than ever, and schools have no idea what their Fiscal Year 2017 budgets will look like. This was all done without the Governor offering a single concrete example of where schools should reallocate resources (although he did point out that gas prices are going down, so that was a nice tip).
Iowans who care about public schools worked hard in the last seven months to educate legislators and the governor about the needs of schools. It is my understand that every school district in the state expressed to political leaders that a 1.25% increase in SSA would lead to program and staffing reductions. Letters were written, hundreds of people lobbied directly to their legislators, Democratic legislators offered numerous compromises to Republicans, and yet on July 2nd we found ourselves with a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding (which really wasn’t 1.25% when other caveats are considered). This is all by way of saying that our legislators have heard from us and by in large ignored us. Legislators have had access to some great educators as they considered action on school funding. Some of my favorites include:
Chris Hoover: http://www.maquoketa.k12.ia.us/?cat=29
Brad Hurst: https://bradhurstia.wordpress.com/
Among many others.
And so, I am suggesting that we begin to formulate a new plan. I attended a session this week by Joseph Grenny who has spent his life studying influence. Those of us who care about public education in Iowa weren’t very successful in influencing those in power this year. I am going to encourage all of us to study how we might better influence the Governor and our legislators before the Governor announces his Fiscal Year 2017 budget in January. I don’t have the answers right now. Do we rally in large numbers? Do we bring key players to a table and share ideas? Do we shout louder? I would encourage those of us who care deeply about public education in Iowa to put our thinking caps on and figure out how we use our influence to actually create positive change for the young people of Iowa. In the meantime I encourage people to continue to write, talk, and most of all teach like pirates! The job is too important to simply let people tell us that we are “whiners” or that we have to simply be more “efficient.” Those are simplistic answers to a complex issue. This is a time for thoughtful people to come together and offer real answers to the issues that are facing us. More money isn’t the only answer to the challenge we are faced with it. Are resources part of the equation? Of course they are. But there is so much more to the question of how Iowa Schools get better. They won’t be answered at the Statehouse. They will be answered by education leaders who will learn how to exert influence. NOW is the time.
Ms. Fandel’s letter to me:
Thank you for writing Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds about preK-12 education funding. Giving Iowa children a world-class education is one of their top priorities, so that all students learn the content and skills needed to succeed in today’s knowledge-driven economy. That is why the administration has targeted historic funding for education reform, including better utilizing the leadership of many of Iowa’s outstanding teachers to improve instruction and raise achievement.
Governor Branstad is committed to predictability and stability in the state budget. Using one-time money without the Legislature establishing regular school funding for Fiscal Year 2017 does not provide school districts with the certainty they need to plan.
Iowa’s preK-12 schools will receive more than $3 billion next school year, the single largest share of the state’s $7.2 billion budget. In addition to Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership System, education reform measures include a comprehensive literacy initiative to assure children read by the end of third grade and an expansion of Iowa Learning Online to offer more courses to high school students statewide.
Thank you again for writing, and please feel free to let me know of any concerns in the future.
Office of the Governor