A red tide can be deadly for ocean swimmers. A red tide of elections can drown the idea of bringing Iowa back to center and can be especially dangerous to public school educators and the health of Iowa public schools.
November 8 brought a red wave that swamped all but one Democratic officer across the state and swept more Republicans into both houses of the Iowa Legislature. The red tide did not create a national wave.
But Iowa didn’t get the memo.
MAGA has no middle and that is the danger.
Choices have consequences and this one is no exception. When Republicans gained a majority in 2016 and Terry Branstad occupied Terrace Hill, the GOP leadership promised to “kick down doors to pass our agenda.”
This time, with what they perceive to be a huge mandate, they won’t stop kicking down doors. They will burn the house.
Last session of the Legislature, public education and teachers were the goal for any Republican legislator looking to make their MAGA bones. Because of this, I predict that GOP majorities and the governor will once again crush educators by enforcing three priorities early, much like they did when they destroyed public sector negotiations in 2017.
Vouchers for private schools
Gov. Kim Reynolds won by 19 points and had long coattails. She has made no secret that passing a comprehensive private school voucher plan is her priority. She won’t waste any time. While the Iowans are hungover from the Christmas spirit, she’ll work to fulfill her priority.
She may not have enough votes yet, so I predict she’ll add sweeteners for her third try. These sweeteners target rural Republican lawmakers who rebelled the first two times by refusing a yes vote.
I think Reynolds could try three different approaches. First, she will propose more money to replace when rural schools lose students to private schools. That means diving into the sacred $1.9 billion federal surplus, courtesy of Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats.
Second, it can allow parents who are already paying for private school to grab some coupon cash. Third, it will add a coupon to paying homeschooling parents to forego both public and private school and instead homeschool their children at the kitchen table.
Regardless of improvement, public schools are losing, and rural areas are becoming educational deserts with one underfunded public school and no private school within driving distance.
lowering of teaching standards
Another early step will be bills to lower the requirements for the teaching profession. This will be the GOP’s quick fix to address the teacher shortage. Rather than acknowledging that there is simply a dearth of professionals willing to be beaten up every day for a less-than-professional salary. Watch for the GOP’s legislative eyes turning to Arizona and Florida, both of which welcome new teachers without a college degree.
Less than financing the cost of living
Funding for the schools will be debated within 30 days of the start of the session. Note that GOP majorities have amnesia over the $1.9 billion carryover they boasted about during the election. Government revenues are falling due to tax cuts and the allowances for old-age pensions. That means schools will again be underfunded well below the rate of inflation.
Is this inevitable?
These predictions are not inevitable. Educators must join ISEA, participate in forums, and develop bipartisan relationships with legislators. Every decision that affects the classroom is political. Educators need to tell their stories and hold politicians accountable.
Iowa needs to find the political center in both parties. This is where the state thrives, and our public schools are the solid foundation.
Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been associated with public schools for 38 years. He taught for 11 years and represented educators for 27 years as Regional Director of the Iowa State Education Association until his retirement. [email protected]