Beebe: Let’s talk about Iowa public school teachers | Opinion
Submitted by Raymond Beebe
I want to start by quoting from the commencement address I gave at Waldorf University on May 8, 2021.
“I also want to talk to you about success – what it is and what it isn’t. It’s not about making a lot of money, becoming CEO of a big company, or reach the pinnacle of social status. The true definition of success is a life and work that brings personal fulfillment and lasting relationships and makes a difference in the world. Nelson Mandela said: “What matters in life is no is not the mere fact that we have lived. It’s the difference we make in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we live.'”
So why am I mentioning this in the context of Iowa teachers? Let me explain. I have been fortunate for several years to mentor a number of young men in our community. This message is something I always share with young people who aspire to become teachers. They already know they won’t get rich working as a teacher, but I stress the satisfaction they will get from “making a difference” in the lives of hundreds of young people throughout their careers. Wow, what can be more important than that?
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So you would think that our state would want to honor, respect and support its teachers, wouldn’t you? But how do teachers see the environment for them in the state of Iowa? Frankly not very well! And don’t take my word for it; go talk to some teachers. Our teachers must have been really impressed when the GOP-controlled legislature opened this year’s session with Senate Speaker Jake Chapman and Senator Brad Zaun, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling us that teachers are pushing a ” sinister agenda” and they also talked about criminalizing books and arresting teachers and librarians.
Chapman is trying to create a new criminal offense for educators and Senator Zaun, who also supports such a move, said, “My warning to all teachers and administrators is that you are going to be in jail.” So now teachers can be jailed if the “wrong” book ends up in the school library! They did not explain who will be able to judge a piece of literature inappropriate. Will this kind of rhetoric encourage our current teachers or cause teachers from other states to move to Iowa? (I should also note that the Chapman/Zaun tirade went viral and was seen nationwide.) I could go on at length on this, but I’ll just say that schools in Iowa have already set up effective mechanisms for reviewing material.
Democratic Senator Herman Quirmbach said it well: “Education professionals strike a balance between challenging material and age-appropriate material. I trust these professionals to continue to do the great work which I believe they did in Iowa.”
Superintendent Lehmann provided me with 19 pages of policy used in the Forest City Community School District regarding program evaluation, academic freedom, and selection of instructional materials. I would much rather leave this in the hands of our educators and administrators than Senator Chapman! Oh, by the way, did the other Republican senators rise to disassociate themselves from this wacky rhetoric? There were maybe a couple but it seems the majority had no problem with it!
So what do we do to show our appreciation to our teachers? Unfortunately, it’s not how much we pay them. Newsweek recently published a list of the top 20 paying states for public elementary and secondary school teachers. Iowa is not on this list. Insider had Iowa 23rd in teacher pay out of 50 states. ZipRecruiter says Iowa ranks 37th in teacher salaries. Now, I’m not one to fall in love with magazine rankings, but the numbers I see certainly suggest that our state district with a country school and “Foundation in Education” printed on the back no longer says it as it is. ‘It is !
Another metric is spending per student in public schools where Iowa ranks 29th in the nation. In my article published in the February 1 Summit/Tribune, I went into detail to demonstrate that our public schools are not sufficiently funded. I mentioned that Supplementary State Assistance (SSA), the amount of new funding available to schools, has only increased an average of 1.73% per year since 2011, which doesn’t even keep up the rate of inflation and, when coupled with a 3% to 5% increase in operating costs in the Iowa middle school, suggests we are rolling back. I said Iowa had a big surplus last year that could have been used to help us catch up. And to make matters worse, Governor Reynolds is proposing a flat income tax of 4% and it is estimated that the impact of this tax cut on an annual basis, when fully implemented, will be approximately 1. $7 billion. Public education accounts for 42% of the state’s general fund expenditures, so if general fund revenue declines by $1.7 billion, public education’s share of that loss is $714 million. This would suggest that even greater reductions for public education are likely in our future if the flat tax is actually implemented.
I think back to 2004 when the neighborhood in Iowa was introduced. We were all proud at that time because it seemed like our public schools were in the top five states in just about every category. Wouldn’t it be great to make public education in Iowa a priority again?
I hope each of you will “stand up” and speak on behalf of our wonderful young people. They are after all our most valuable asset and they deserve the best education we can give them.
Other thoughts will follow.
Raymond Beebe was vice president, general counsel and secretary of Winnebago Industries, Inc. for 38 years. He is currently President of the Forest City Education Foundation and Chairman of the Board of the Waldorf University Foundation.
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