Dear Senator Grassley

Dear Senator Grassley,

I’m a public school teacher in Iowa.  I have even voted for you a couple of times (although in honesty I didn’t vote for you this time around).  There was a time when you were considered a moderate.  There was a time when Iowa was a state that took some pride in being governed by moderates from both parties; the name Robert Ray comes to mind.  Those days seem like a distant memory.

While much has changed in Iowa over the last 36 years, one of the things that I think has remained constant is that Iowans take pride in our public education system.  My parents had the option to move anywhere in the Midwest (in the country really) in 1973.  They did a lot of research and decided that Ames, Iowa was the best place in the country to raise a family, based primarily on the quality of the public schools.  Although my father had numerous opportunities to make more money in other places, he kept our family in Ames through his children’s graduation because he recognized that he had made the right decision in 1973.  Great public school education is what Iowa should offer to young families.

I am writing you to respectfully ask that you do not vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  Ms. DeVos has no practical experience in education.  She has spent the last several years actively opposing public education in her home state of Michigan.  She has not attended a public school, she has not studied education, been a public school parent, or ever worked in a school.  Ms. DeVos has spent the last several years as the architect of a largely unsuccessful private and for-profit charter school system in Detriot that has diverted millions of public dollars from underfunded public schools.

Her lack of experience in the field of education should be enough to disqualify her to be Secretary of Education, but her complete disdain for public schools should make the decision to deny her confirmation very easy.  The system she devised for Detroit’s schools operates like the Wild West.  Her solution for a struggling school system was to invite those seeking to make a profit to take over schools with essentially no oversight.  Her solution has failed.  After more than a decade of getting her way on a host of educational policies (by filling the swamp with millions of dollars in contributions), Michigan is one of five states with declining reading scores.

There was a day when you represented Iowa as a moderate voice of reason in the Senate.  It is undeniable that you have become more partisan and less moderate over the years.  Regardless, I assume that you take the job of representing Iowa values seriously.  There is no way to argue that Betsy DeVos represents what is best for the public schools of Iowa.  There are reasonable arguments to be made for creating more school choice, but Ms. DeVos’s track record demonstrates that her agenda is not to create conditions for all schools to have equal opportunities to provide the best education for students.  Her agenda is to take taxpayer dollars and put them into unregulated for-profit businesses whose primary interest is not what is good for kids.

Do what is right; vote against the nomination of Ms. DeVos.  It would remind Iowans that you are not just a puppet of your party or of special interests.  It would demonstrate that you recognize the importance of public schools.  It is the right thing to do.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

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20 Comments

  1. Nicely written and polite. I would expect nothing less from someone from the Midwest. You lost me when you said that public schools are underfunded. At what point in time do we throw in the towel on failing schools and try something drastically different? We need something different and what you propose is the same old stale story. I would guess you voted for Hillary and are in a union. If you are a parent with a child at one of these failing schools you would cheer Mr. Trumps appointment.

    • I have proudly dedicated 25 years to public education. I am proudly a member of my local education association. My son graduated from an outstanding public school. There does need to be change, but putting a billionaire with no education real education experience in charge of our public school is not the answer. The people cheering Ms. DeVos’s nomination are those who want to get rich on tax payer dollars running unregulated charter schools. It has failed in Michigan and it will fail nationally. Every publicly elected school board in Iowa would tell you that current funding makes it nearly impossible to meet federal and state mandates and provide the services that our communities expect from our public schools. Most for-profit charter companies have gotten out f the business because they found that the public schools they took over were not being run inefficiently. If there is an army of educators who are better qualified and willing to do this work for less money, where are they? Fewer people are going into education than ever before.

      If you believe that our schools are over funded, I encourage you to run for your local school board and begin to decide what spending is excessive. Cut the arts? Cut services to special education students? Increase class sizes? Stop purchasing technology? Where is the excessive spending? The answer is that public schools are doing their best each and every day to comply with state and federal mandates, but more importantly are dedicating their lives to helping kids. No one goes into teaching to get rich. We teach because somewhere a teacher inspired us and we want to pay it forward.

      I am sure Ms. DeVos is an upstanding woman, but her track record suggests that her interest is in moving money out of classrooms and into the pockets of people hoping to make a profit. The evidence also suggests that her agenda has failed in her home state where she has had great influence. She’s the wrong choice.

  2. Maybe you need to be educated on the private school system. Look at how profitable the Christian school system is, operating on far less money than the public schools and the education our kids are receiving in public schools-well you’re a teacher you know how bad it is, or maybe you won’t admit it, because you’re part of the problem. There are so many bad teachers in our Iowa schools and as parents out hand are tied, the same bad teacher stays in their job until retirement, complaining about their job, lack of pay e.g. it’s time to scrap this failing my blueprint and change. I’m a parent of 5, I do not want more of the same. I support her.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond. I proudly started my career in the parochial school system and know that there are many outstanding private schools in Iowa. They don’t actually operate on less money than public schools. Tuition at some parochial schools in Iowa run as much as $10,000 a year, where as public schools receive less than $7000 per student to operate. I am a teacher and I do know the challenges we face. Increasing class sizes, more mandates from the state and federal government, and an increasing diverse population that public schools are required to serve. Like any profession, the quality of teachers varies widely, but if there is evidence of “many” bad teachers, I don’t see it. I see hard working people who have dedicated their lives to public education. None of us are getting rich. If there is an army of better qualified people who want to work in the education field for less money, bring them on. Teachers would agree that public education needs to continue to change, but I object to public tax dollars going to religious education and I object to public tax dollars going to for-profit enterprises. There is no evidence that for-profit schools are more successful than public schools; even when they are unregulated like they are in Ms. DeVos’s home state of Michigan. As a matter of fact most companies who got into the for-profit charter system have gotten out because they found that the public schools they took over were not being run inefficiently.

      If you believe the answer to better public education is a billionaire who has never worked a day of her life in the field of education, you have that right, but the evidence would suggest (including in her own state of Michigan, where she has dictated a great deal of educational policy) that she will fail, which is too bad for the kids of our country.

    • Where do the private school children go when they get kicked out, bullied, or the private school says the children are too needy to be served? How about public schools with less government control? What specific public schools are you talking about that are doing a bad job? My community has 3 great private schools. We have one family whose children were having terrible bullying issues at the private school. The mom chose to home school. She told her neighbors, “would you want your children to play with public school kids”. After her children struggled with home school, she decided to bring them to the same public schools that you know obviously know nothing about and her children have thrived and she is one of our biggest advocates. Another student the private schools kicked out because the girl was such a bully at their school came to the public school and hasn’t had an issue in two years. In my community the private and public schools work together. The private schools have no desire to educate all of God’s children. Do you believe that all children should be educated?

    • Christian schools are profitable?? My children went to Catholic schools K-6th grade (they offered child care before and after school at the time) and I have never seen such hard working teachers as I have there. HOWEVER, the teachers there were at least paid 10,000 a year less than their public school counterparts. The teachers had no retirement system and had more responsibilities than public school teachers. They were their own custodians, nurses, lunchroom helpers, etc. and put in a lot of their own money to pay for shortfalls that the parish couldn’t provide.

      • Thanks for taking the time to read and interact. I disagree that administration costs and unions are the problem. For-profit charter schools (which Ms. DeVos advocates for) have found that the schools they took over were not bloated and most have failed and gone out of business. Ms. DeVos seems to be a fan of unregulated charter schools as an answer to our education issues in the country. If that is the case, why not deregulate public schools? The answer to that question is that our communities rightfully insist that our public schools take ALL children, that public schools are staffed by well-qualified educators, and that public schools offer multiple opportunities and supports for ALL kids. As for teacher unions, I’m not sure how you think they are hurting public schools. Teacher associations are filled with hard-working professionals who have dedicated their careers to improving public schools. None of us are getting rich doing this. If there is an army of better qualified people who want to do these jobs for less money, bring them on. There is much work to be done to make our schools better, but the work Ms. DeVos has done in Michigan has been bad for the kids in that state. She is a billionaire who has filled the swamp with money that has gone to people hoping to make a profit on Michigan’s school children.

      • I’ve worked in a Catholic high school and my brother is a principal in a PK-8 Catholic school. I do understand there is sacrifice by both the teachers and the parents. However, let’s keep one thing in mind: Those teachers are either there because they choose to be or because they couldn’t get positions in the public school system. Furthermore, let’s talk about the differences in public schools and what public school dollars provide for the parochial schools across the state.

        Shall we begin with transportation, which in rural areas is a major component of a General Fund budget? In our public school, that runs roughly $750,000 per year (the entire parochial school budget is about $1.2 million). Special education produced a deficit last year of $380,000 and $650,000 the year before that. How much did any of the parochial schools spend on special education? Oh, right, it was NOTHING! The public school picked up all the expenses. Food service — the public school in our community pays for the help. Catholic high schools aren’t bound by the same Career Technical regulations as are found in public schools, often times the most expensive programs found in the educational programs. There’s textbook assistance, shuttling students back and forth for advanced programming the parochial system can’t provide, and for students in orchestra (which the parochial system can’t support either).

        I’m also interested in where all these “bad” teachers are in Iowa’s public schools. If some of you are sending your children to parochial schools, how do you know? Other than heresay, what actual data is this based upon. Actual data from across the country indicates that, in a clear majority of the time, when you disagregate for demographics, the public school performs as well or better than the private or charter schools. I mention disagregating for demographics because in our community the free/reduced lunch rate for the parochial school is 5% and 25% in the public school. Might that make a difference?

        Ms. DeVoss would be the most unqualified Secretary of Education in the history of that Cabinet position and her goal for expanded vouchers and charter schools is not supported by data. There are many, many better choices to be found nationwide. That is why Senator Grassley should be voting against her.

  3. Very well written and so true…we don’t need home schooling…we need someone that is going to stand up for our education of our students…that we are not second to any other country. do what is right ….that is why you were re elected is because we thought you were the best. NOW STAND UP FOR STUDENTS.

  4. How about simply eliminating the federal Department of Education and returning the control of public schools to the states where it belongs? This would eliminate some of the crushing regulations and requirements forced upon schools by a federal beauracracy.

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