Here we go again…

[These musing follow on the heels of an Iowa legislative initiative [with the grand-sounding moniker of “Students First Act”] to further school choice in a legislative session in which members of the majority party have been railroaded into support of a law that has been debated annually for several years. Even members of the majority party have doubts about the wisdom of furthering school choice in Iowa, but our governor is calling in the membership chips.]

I don’t have the chops to argue school policy at the level of the Iowa state legislature. I don’t have the lobbyists at my disposal who are busily bending the ears of those who are ostensibly representing us at the Iowa Capitol. I’ve not sat in on any of their proceedings.
I can tell you this. Our representatives do not have staff persons at the meetings of our school boards, locally. They are not here talking to students in our schools. They are not here talking to our teachers during breaks in their day.
They are getting their information twice-(or more)-removed from ground zero, the classrooms in which our students are taught.
In light of the dollars our state funnels into education, and, as a taxpayer, I have to say there is a big gap here between those making policy and those who have to carry out those grand ideas.
We schooled our kids at home (with the help of some classes at our local public high school, I must add), and our kids have long left the house to follow their lights. But, my experience with public schools and with the kids who have attended public schools continues to fuel my interests. I attend public meetings relating to education. In those public meetings (emphasis on public), I’ve heard school kids from primary through secondary levels tell about their experiences. I hear reports from principals and teachers, who relate the triumphs and travails of their work.
There have been some interesting discussions, especially as the COVID pandemic hit. In another, the board room was packed as a student related the presence of racism in the school.
The minds of our kids are like sponges. When they are interested, it’s a big job finding enough material to feed those interests. In school, interested kids are encouraged to think, write, create and speak to communicate those interests. Our teachers (public and private) are professionals who delight (or should) in providing the basics to fuel those interests while encouraging students to broaden themselves.
Where am I going with this? You are busy with yet another season of “education reform.” It seems to me that this perpetual diversion never stops. It does more to advance political careers than it to advance the state of education.
For example, proponents and opponents of “school choice” are beavering away, right now, on a bill that would expand state funding to families who want to send kids to private schools.
It will benefit a few more parents in lower-income brackets in the first year, if the bill is enacted. Three years down the road, it has the promise of benefiting parents state-wide who want to support private schools…
…that is, if the state legislature continues to fund the program. The economics of the program under discussion have not been fully vetted.
In prior years, there has been vociferous debate about whether the dollars spent on state education have been effective. If we taxpayers don’t hear that, again, with this proposal, something is off kilter.
It’s easy to forget that state policy begins by funding favorite programs, but when state income falls short, the continuation of those programs falls back to the local tax base.
Promises and making policy are easy, especially if the persons making the promises and policy are not in the trenches. So, pardon me, if you see my eyes roll, with this latest proposed legislation.
In the spirit of compromise, I offered this: If state legislators are feeling flush and are bound and determined to assist private education, designate a one-time, substantial contribution individually to each qualified private state school in Iowa. Attach whatever qualifiers legislators wish to impose, but emphasize that the money is to be invested wisely in a program to offer scholarships to local families who wish to have their kids attend private schools.
That method will reduce the criticism, somewhat, of diverting state dollars from public to private education.
But I can’t help but see programs such as these chip away at the need for robust public education.
Oh, and while legislators are at it, they can an least make an effort to approach a cost-of-living increase to public education. Teachers, administrators and support staff are the backbone of any education initiative. Parents are essential, as well, not to mention kids who are eager to learn.
Encouraging our kids to read, think, write, create and speak at the backbone of a well-functioning republic. That’s the underpinnings I’m looking for in an educational system. I hope our representatives are good examples of those who read, who think critically, who can write, create and speak their own minds outside of the confines of their parties. If they are not, I wonder how effectively they can guide the educational process.


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