Many Iowans may have been pleasantly surprised Thursday morning to hear stories about Deidre DeJear’s plans to start Iowa on a trek back to the top of the educational heap in America. Education used to be one of Iowa’s bragging points. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds over the past 12 years have taken Iowa from the top to below the middle with seemingly no plan to stop there.
Last year we saw what was yet another virtual cutback in school spending as the radical right Republicans only appropriated a 2.5% increase for schools for this coming year. That was much below the inflation rate at the time. It is now well below inflation.
Even after that skinty raise, Iowa’s current governor was not satisfied with making public schools hurt for funds. No, just to add insult to injury she worked her tail off to try to hand a large bundle of that money to privatized education. When she didn’t get her way, she went after her own party members who had voted against her plan to privatize schools.
You see, privatizing schools is Republican dogma these days. Anything that can be done to wreck the public system and promote education for profit is now at the heart of the Republican playbook. In a scathing article in the August 11 New Republic on education in America, writer Brynn Tannehill let’s us really know the sordid plans that Republicans have using ‘privatization”:
Republicans, and white conservatives, have long been hostile to public schools. School desegregation drove white evangelicals to become the strongest Republican demographic. Ronald Reagan promised to end the Department of Education in 1980. Trump put Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education, precisely because she was a leading proponent (and funder) of defunding public schools, and funneling it to religious schools. During her confirmation hearings it became clear that she knew nothing about education, and provided plagiarized and laughably bad answers to questions, asserting that teachers need guns to ward off grizzly bear attacks.
Republican candidates talk about “school choice” and putting God and prayer back in schools. What they really want, though, will result in the end of public education for the poor, and disfavored minorities like LGBT people.
Their plan looks like this: Parents are given a voucher for several thousand dollars that comes out of the state education budget. The money can be spent on tuition for charter or private schools, microschools (collective homeschooling), or regular homeschooling. Republicans say the “money goes to the kids.” In reality, it reduces money going to public schools to a point where the schools will be dramatically underfunded.
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Florida’s history with vouchers shows us where this leads: poorer students promised a better education end up in low-cost, low-quality charter schools in abandoned strip malls that go out of business with little or no warning, with devastating results for the students. Republicans across the country have ensured that there is little to no oversight of charter schools, and that they do not have to meet many state education regulations. This is ostensibly to foster “innovation,” but in reality it is to make them more profitable, and conceal how shoddy many of them are. In Ohio, as Jane Mayer reported in her gripping new article about the destruction right-wing Republicans have wrought in that state, after a decade of GOP operatives siphoning off public school funding and directing it toward politically connected charter schools, state education rankings have slipped from fifth in the nation to 31st.
The result is tremendous variance in the quality of charter schools, mostly reflecting how much funding they have. “Allowing the market to decide” hasn’t created a rising tide that lifts all boats; students with less money get a worse education, and charter schools don’t seem to produce better results overall. You get out of a system what you put into it, and Republicans want to put as little as possible into education.
Is this what Iowans want for their future? I don’t think any rational person does. Yet here is what will happen to Iowa if Kim Reynolds gets her way. By the way, Reynolds reward would be a rising star in the pantheon of current radical party personalities.
Deidre DeJear will move Iowa back to the state that once prized education. Her plan is laid out on her website here.
At the end of the video, chair Jeff Kaufmann of the radical right party states Iowa’s students are on a better path. I respectfully disagree. Students are on a path, but not a better path. As noted earlier our path is headed down with no apparent stopping point.
Where once Iowa education was mentioned in the same league with Massachusetts and Minnesota, we are headed to being in the same league with Mississippi and Alabama. Your choice, Iowa. The choice is pretty clear. It is you future as well as the students and their parents.