Archives for category: Iowa

Darcie Cimarusti, communications director for the Network for Public Education, reports on the assault on public school funding in Iowa. K12 Inc., the for-profit virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is noted for high attrition rates, low graduation rates, low test scores, and high profits. Its top executives are each paid millions of dollars.

In multiple states across the country omnibus schools choice bills with sweeping charter and voucher provisions have been introduced. NPE Action has been following these bills here. Just such a bill was introduced in Iowa, SSB 1065 which would modify the state’s existing charter school law, which requires the approval of a local school board, to allow charter applicants to apply directly to the state board for a charter with no local approval required. Lobbying disclosures show that K12 Inc., which recently rebranded as Stride, Inc., has lobbied in favor of the bill

Should the Iowa legislature send this bill to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk, no doubt K12’s lobbying efforts will intensify. Currently K12 operates 51 online charter schools in 20 states. 

Iowa may be next.

Randall Balmer is one of Iowa’s most accomplished sons. After growing up in Iowa and attending its public schools, he went on to success as a historian, author, and professor, now at Dartmouth College. In addition to writing award-winning books about religion, he wrote a biography of President Jimmy Carter and won an Emmy for a three-part PBS series on the Evangelical church.

He wrote a compelling editorial warning Iowans against the Republicans’ plans to introduce a sweeping choice plan, which will divert students and funding from community public schools. He called school choice a “mirage.”

He began with plain truths:

As a graduate of Iowa public schools, I was saddened to read about the governor’s “school choice” proposal. Public education is one of our nation’s best ideas, and the persistent attempts on the part of politicians to undermine it with the misleading rhetoric of “choice” represents a real threat to the future of democracy.

Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed legislation to take money away from Ohio public schools and divert it to privately managed schools, vouchers for religious schools, charter schools, and home schooling. She is following in the footsteps of Betsy DeVos, who spent four years trying to eradicate public schools.

If you live in Iowa, contact your legislator and Governor Reynolds! Speak up for your public schools! Resist the privatization of public funds!

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proposed SSB 1065, (now known as SF 159) which is being fast-tracked through the state Senate.  The vote may be today. This “school choice” bill would:

  • Provide up to $5,200 per student in “state scholarships” for parents to use for private school tuition or homeschooling expenses. 
  • Greatly expand charter schools in the state by allowing applicants to start a charter school by going straight to the state board, bypassing the school district.  No longer would districts be the only decider for charter schools. 

If you love your public schools, you need to drop what you are doing and get to work!

1. Call your state senators NOW and ask them to support public schools by OPPOSING Senate File 159, SSB 1065. Or say, “I oppose the school choice voucher/charter bill.” You can find your Senator and their phone number by going here. Click on their name for their phone number.

2Click here and send an email in opposition to SSB 1065/SF 159  NOW.

3. Share this link with friends and family who live in the state

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/save-iowa-public-schools-oppose/

Don’t wait. Act now. 

Carol Burris

Executive Director

Network for Public Education

Iowa has one of the best school systems in the nation, but legislators are working to pass a voucher program.

They very likely belong to ALEC, where they got their marching orders to destroy public education.

The bill advanced on a party line vote, with Democrats opposed. Every student who gets a voucher will take $5,000 away from the state’s public school. That amount will not be enough for a high quality private school.

In recent studies, done by scholars of different views, vouchers depress student achievement. Do Iowa legislators know that? Do they care?

The sponsor admitted that his plan would reduce funding for public schools:

“Yeah, it’s going to take a student away and that funding will go away (for public schools),” he said. “But that’s no different than a student leaving for any other reason. So schools have to deal with that all the time – declining enrollment or enrollment changing.”

Citizens of Iowa must rise up and say no. No to vouchers! No to additional “flexibility” to charter schools! No to budget cuts for public schools.

It is so rare to find a mainstream newspaper that supports public schools and opposes privatization, that it is worth paying attention when you see one. Our reader Chiara sent this one in. If you see one in your city or state, send it in. Iowa has long been renowned for its excellent public schools. Community support is a big part of that excellence. Thank you, Des Moines Register!

The editorial begins like this:

Let’s just call the “school choice” movement what it really is: an effort to funnel taxpayer dollars from public schools to vouchers, private schools and home schools. Supporters seem to believe Iowa children are being held hostage in collapsing government education institutions. 

“If there’s a public school that’s failing, we have a responsibility to those children that we give them the best opportunity possible,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa.

Actually, if schools are failing, the Iowa Legislature has a responsibility to help fix them, which includes adequately funding them. Despite the rhetoric of Chelgren and other school-choice advocates, Iowa parents have numerous choices in educating their children.

That is exactly right. When a school has low test scores, help it. Support the kids and the teachers. Don’t kill public education by betting on vouchers (a proven failure) and charters (privately run schools that typically do no better than the public schools they replace).

 

 

 

Dana Goldstein, one of the best education writers, now reports for the New York Times.

In this article, she describes the rush to expand vouchers for religious schools in Iowa.

You don’t have to look far to find funding by Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers.

“Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state.

“Iowa is one of 31 states where legislators have proposed creating or expanding school choice programs this year, without Washington even lifting a finger. Even if just a few of the bills pass, the number of children attending private schools with public money could greatly increase, one reason the proposals are meeting resistance.

“There is a national discussion about this, and obviously Donald Trump has brought it up,” said State Representative Walt Rogers, chairman of the House Education Committee. He said a modest expansion in Iowa remained possible this year. “I tell people, ‘This discussion isn’t going away.’”

“A powerful force in the movement is Mr. Trump’s secretary of education, the philanthropist Betsy DeVos. She has spent decades arguing that public schools have a monopoly on education and fighting for tax dollars to be available for private tuition.

“Mary Kakayo and her daughter Alma, 9, who attends St. Theresa Catholic School in Des Moines. The state covers more than half of Alma’s $3,025 tuition. Credit Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times
The issue is so important to her that she has sought to insert it into almost every statement she has made in her new role — even when it was an awkward fit, such as when she described historically black colleges as being created by school choice, when in reality they were formed because black students had been barred from traditional colleges.

“As education secretary, Ms. DeVos has limited ability to carry out school choice nationwide, at least without action from Congress. But her previous investments as a philanthropist are paying dividends.

“In 2013 and 2014, the most recent years for which financial disclosures are available, several organizations associated with Ms. DeVos invested over $7 million in school choice lobbying efforts in states now considering new bills. Americans for Prosperity, the activist group founded by the Koch brothers, and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council are also pushing private school choice in statehouses across the country.

“The number of American students benefiting from private school choice programs now is relatively small. Estimates by EdChoice, the organization founded by Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist who first introduced the idea of vouchers, put the number at 446,000 this year, out of a total school-age population of 56 million. (Three million attend public charter schools, which Ms. DeVos also has championed and which generally do not accept vouchers.)

“Advocates say that expanding private school choice would allow parents to remove children from public schools that are not meeting their needs, and note that surveys show parents in existing programs have high satisfaction rates. Competition from private schools, they say, can help public schools improve.

“A lot of families want to have the choice,” Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa said at a rally in January. “We want to make sure all those choices are available, and are as affordable as possible.”

“Traditional school voucher programs, which exist in 15 states and the District of Columbia, allow the government to pay private schools, many of them religious, directly. Tax credit scholarships, like the one that helps pay tuition for Ms. Kakayo’s daughter, are a newer and growing form of school choice. They allow individuals and corporations to receive credit on their state income taxes for donations to nonprofits that provide tuition aid to students. Iowa’s program, currently used by 11,000 students, has income limits — $73,800 for a family of four — and the average scholarship award is only $1,583.

“Iowa is one of the states where legislators this year proposed education savings accounts, an even more expansive benefit. The accounts give parents state money each year — under one proposal, in the form of a $5,000 debit card — that they can use on private school tuition, home schooling costs, online education or tutoring.

“Ms. Kakayo said she would welcome further tuition support from the state, which would allow her to save money for college for Alma and her younger sister, Anna-Palma, who also attends St. Theresa. Under one proposal, after a student graduates from high school, any money left in the account could be used for tuition at in-state colleges. “It would be very, very helpful,” she said.

“Both sides of the debate over the proposals ran marketing campaigns. A television ad from the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, a group Ms. DeVos has financially supported, said that “education savings accounts give parents the right to choose a school that meets their child’s needs.” The ad cited smaller class sizes and individual teacher attention, but did not use the term “private school.”

“A competing social media campaign by an online group called Iowans for Public Education satirically compared the accounts to “park savings accounts” that would allow parents to spend tax dollars on country club fees instead of public playgrounds.

“Opponents have called the programs a giveaway to religious institutions. All but five of the 140 schools currently participating in the program are Catholic or Protestant, and the Diocese of Des Moines is among those lobbying for the expansion….

“It is unclear, however, how much public support exists for any expansion. A Des Moines Register poll of 802 Iowans in February found that 58 percent opposed using public funds to pay for private education, while 35 percent supported the idea.

“Both public and private school leaders extol the excellence of public schools in Iowa — it had the nation’s highest high school graduation rate in 2015 — and speak proudly of cooperation between the two sectors.”

So, the billionaires want vouchers to disrupt the nation’s most successful school system.

Iowa adopted the Common Core standards but renamed them the “Iowa Core.” They read just like the Common Core standards.

 

Teachers in K-3 are concerned about the developmental appropriateness of the literacy standards for young children.

 

The State Education Department has distributed a survey asking teachers what they think of the standards. A teacher in Iowa asked me to post the survey link. Please review the standards and express your views about them.

 

If you are a teacher in Iowa, be sure to take the survey and let the SED know.

 

 

Amy Moore teaches fifth grade in Newton, Iowa, and writes often for the Des Moines Register. In this article, she chastises Governor Terry Branstad for promising to make education his top priority, then spending his time in office refusing to fund the schools.

 

She writes that educators will tell the Legislature how much money the schools need and legislators will lecture teachers and administrators about how greedy they are and why they need to do more with less. She says about Governor Branstad, “If this is how he handles his top priority, then I’d like to beg him to put us lower on his list.”

 

The way I see it he has reached into our pockets to steal millions of dollars set aside for our children. He put locks on our school doors until a date that he — and his business partners who care only about squeezing every last cent of profit from Iowa families — deemed appropriate. He plans to mess with school monies to try to help agricultural businesses get off the hook for water they polluted. He allowed for a push to implement Smarter Balanced assessments, which will make huge money for testing companies coming from our state, and is being dropped by other states that have found it to be problematic to say the least. The only real school improvement plan he has focused on is his teacher leadership initiative, which sends the clear and incorrect message that teachers are the main problem with our schools.

 

Aren’t Republicans supposed to believe in less government intrusion? I’d like governor to stay true to his party and trust local districts to spend the allocated state money. Districts have a strong track record of knowing what is needed to serve our local communities, and the diversity of school populations across the state makes one-size-fits-all mandates nonsensical.
With talk of next year’s budget there is inevitably the constant assertion that “just throwing money at it won’t help.” I wonder if the millions of Americans purchasing Powerball tickets this week would agree with that?

 

I have to admit there are times when having extra money cannot help. For example, if you’re being attacked by a grizzly bear, I don’t believe throwing money at him will help. Or if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, no amount of money can take away the pain.

 

But when it comes to children, having more money can almost always improve lives. More money can mean more books to read in the home and better quality clothes. It can mean more available time from a parent who doesn’t have to work three jobs to make ends meet. It can mean superior health care, child care and healthier foods.

 

It is the same with children in a classroom. Money means smaller class sizes with more individualized instruction. It means updated materials and technology. It means well paid, high quality teachers who feel appreciated to be compensated for their professional skills. It means fully staffed art, counseling, music, preschool and health departments. It means safe and comfortable school environments. It means the ability to offer courses to reach the interests and abilities of more students. It means field trips, extracurricular clubs and non-dilapidated textbooks.

 

Amy insists that the Governor and the Legislature must appropriate the funding that the children of Iowa need and hold the lectures about austerity.

Scott McLeod, a blogger in Iowa, explains how politicians are following a script that details how to kill public education. Watch what they do. The same game plan is being repeated in other states.

McLeod knows that Iowa is not the worst-hit state, but it is being targeted for privatization.

Follow the steps. See if your state is suffering the same treatment at the hands of “reformers.”

He writes:

*underfund schools so that they can’t keep up with operational costs, will struggle to meet educational mandates, and will have to reduce personnel (bonus: fewer union members!)

*maintain claims about ‘fiscal accountability’ and future revenue concerns, even when they require ignoring strong revenue generation and projections

*reduce existing revenue streams in order to bolster claims of fiscal hardship (bonus: less government!)

*employ bait-and-switch funding mechanisms that supplant rather than supplement and/or disappear at the last minute

*ignore legal requirements to timely establish school funding levels that would allow districts to adequately plan and budget

*implement new, supplemental ‘bread and circuses’ initiatives (say, STEM or financial literacy) that distract the general public from the year-to-year erosion of base school funding

*give as little policy attention as possible to the known educational needs of students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their primary language (and thus struggle academically), even as those student and family populations increase markedly within the state

*deflect the blame for your underfunding of schools by alleging schools’ inefficiency and superintendents’ mismanagement

*frequently change state standards and assessments and/or make them more difficult so that educators and students struggle to keep up and have less chance of hitting the moving targets
use selective data (say, NAEP scores) to manufacture educational crises that feed your rhetoric of public school failure

*create school grading and ranking schemes that shame struggling schools, demoralize the educators within them, and alarm parents
implement teacher evaluation schemes that are guaranteed to be unfair, demoralize educators, and confuse the public

*pitch tax credits and private/religious school vouchers or ’scholarships’ (‘money that will follow students in their backpacks’) to the general public as natural recourses to the failures of public schools

*write legislation that expands public school alternatives such as charters or homeschooling, particularly ones that can siphon funds away from public schools

*create double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not non-public alternatives

*accept policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
affiliate with anti-public-school organizations (say, ALEC) that will feed you ‘model’ legislation proposals, connect you with successful players and tactics from other states, and provide ongoing encouragement to stay the course

*hold yearly education summits at which educators can only listen passively to carefully-vetted speakers who feed your desired agendas

*publicly dismiss, disparage, intimidate, or try to silence educators, parents, researchers, and others who speak out against your policies

Across the nation, states are dropping out of the Common Core testing. Most have decided that the tests are too long, too expensive, and provide no more information than the tests they had before.

 

But Iowa, among the high-scoring states in the nation, has decided to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessment at the same time that others are backing out. The new tests will begin in the 2016-17 year.

 

The irony is that Iowa has long been one of the nation’s high-performing states even though it had no state standards or assessments.

 

But the state board of education has decided to follow everyone else, even as others are dropping out.