It is a myth that schools “close” for the summer. It is also a myth that teachers don’t work in June and July. Take a visit to your local school and you will see marching bands getting ready for summer parades and preparing for the fall season, you will see the weight room filled with students who are active in summer sports or preparing for next season, you will see summer classes of all types, and you will see teachers spending time together doing all kinds of professional learning.
The one thing that does slow down this time of the year is public school advocacy. Legislatures aren’t in session, teachers are busy doing their summer learning, and important resource decisions for school districts for the coming year have now been made. But, do you know who stays very busy all year long? Advocates for vouchers, “school choice”, charter schools, and everyone involved in the industry of making a buck off of schools stay very busy. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to work very hard to advocate for steering tax dollars to the charter school industry this summer (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2019/03/27/charter-school-betsy-devos-school-choice/3251111002/).
It is critical that advocates for our public schools continue speak out. At the end of the year I noticed an increase in stories like this one about teachers reaching their breaking point with students exhibiting extreme behavior (https://whotv.com/2019/05/31/extreme-violent-student-behavior-pushing-iowa-teachers-to-breaking-point/). There are things that can make this situation better, but they require training, manpower, and other resources that schools simply don’t have as they continue to tighten their belts year after year.
Republican legislators in Iowa have told us for several years that schools can get by with minimal increases to school budgets. The Iowa Policy Project shows here that school aid has increased an average of 1.7% per year for the last nine years (https://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2018docs/180926-roadmap-educK12.pdf). There is no way that schools can maintain necessary mental health services and training at that rate of spending. While those legislators are busy telling Iowans that we can’t afford adequate increases in school funding they will have increased business tax credits almost 50% for the 10 years from 2011-2021 (https://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2018docs/180926-roadmap-educK12.pdf). The Iowa Fiscal Partnership points out that Iowa gave away $42 million in 2018 to corporations that paid no state income tax. That amount could have provided a 1% increase to Iowa schools for next year.
Secretary DeVos likes to talk about “choice”, so let’s talk about it. Iowa legislators have a choice. They can continue to line the pockets of giant corporations with tax credits or they can begin to restore adequate funding to Iowa’s schools. That’s a really simple choice and it is really more a choice for Iowa’s voters than it is for our legislators. Iowa’s Republican legislators have made it clear what their priorities are, now it is time for Iowans to reclaim our history as a state that values public education.
In an era when states across the country are discovering that charter schools create an environment where corruption becomes rampant (https://educationopportunitynetwork.org/charter-school-corruption-is-changing-education-policy-and-politics/), Iowa must rebuke those who would take our public tax dollars and steer them to vouchers, religious schools, and those who want to turn a profit. Iowans must insist that our public schools are able to offer the type of mental health support that will reduce extreme student behaviors. Iowans must also recognize that teacher shortages are a real thing and that unless we do something now, our schools will find it harder and harder to make sure qualified teachers are in front of every class (https://www.epi.org/publication/low-relative-pay-and-high-incidence-of-moonlighting-play-a-role-in-the-teacher-shortage-particularly-in-high-poverty-schools-the-third-report-in-the-perfect-storm-in-the-teacher-labor-marke/).
Secretary DeVos has a huge megaphone through which she serves as a shill for the charter school and voucher industry. She has allies with deep pockets like the Koch Brothers (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/07/arizona-fight-koch-brothers-school-vouchers) who want to starve public education. In the other corner, public schools have teachers and parents who understand how critical it is that our schools have the resources they need to provide for the ever-increasing services that they are expected to support. Investment in public education reaches far beyond the classroom (https://mdreducation.com/2018/10/31/investing-in-hope-the-ripple-effects-of-public-education-investment/). Can teachers and parents stand up against the likes of billionaires like Ms. DeVos and the Koch Brothers? I don’t know. It feels like they are winning more often than they are losing, but we can’t afford to give up. We have to step out of our comfort zones and shift the narrative. The narrative has to be about what our public schools need in order to serve our young people. The “choice” Ms. DeVos talks about doesn’t have to be between underfunded public schools and a charter schools that are becoming more and more corrupt as tax dollars keep flowing into their pockets. Student choice will increase as public schools are able to provide more options
My son is getting ready to start his senior year as an education student at Drake University. He hasn’t chosen teaching as a profession to get rich and he didn’t choose education as some sort of political statement. He wants to help young people learn; it’s really that simple, and yet I hope he refuses to accept the notion that Iowa’s tax dollars are better spent in corporate pockets or in the hands of those who are looking to get rich in education. I hope my son and his generation of young teachers will feel confident to speak out and protect Iowa’s most important resource, our young people. Until he joins the profession, it’s up to us feisty, veteran teachers to be heard and demand that Iowa do what is right for our students. It would be a shame if Iowa teachers had to go to the extremes that teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, and Kentucky have had to go to in order to be heard, but make no mistake, Iowa teachers have a breaking point and it may be closer than you think.