Joe Mitchell, the Republican State Rep. from Wayland, said Friday that playing political football with children’s education was “absolutely disgusting”.
The context was that the state’s biggest public schools were throwing their respective weight around in ignoring Governor Kim Reynolds’ directive to get back to school. At least optionally, anyway.
He’s right. Political football, or any political sport for that reason, has to be measured when it comes to our children’s futures. Just as measured as the state giving those same schools in the Des Moines public system who haven’t been in school since the start of the year – thumbing their noses at Reynolds – $41 million in federal second-round CARES funding.
The formula for the funds is based on the formula used to determine free and reduced meal enrollments. Central Lee got $500,000 comparative dollars.
But most sports need at least two people to play and now the state is playing political football, mandating that public school students be offered a 100% in-person option at the state’s public schools. That’s the defense to the Des Moines’ systems offense. And the legislature has the numbers to make it happen.
In the very same breath, Reynolds says she can’t guarantee the safety of any of the state’s teachers or students because there aren’t enough coronavirus vaccines to protect everyone.
So she and the GOP-controlled legislature are playing the odds, and quite frankly the odds are in favor of being in school. Parents still have the option of online learning. The governor is only requiring an option for 100% in-person learning.
But we bet there’s a hedge here. She wants to move public funds to private schools through legislation being proposed through Senate File 189, so she’s getting a bill that only requires an option. Although she has the numbers, she may also be thinking re-election at this point.
The senate file really is only focused on about 10,000 students in about 34 schools who would qualify under the bill.
But it still scratches at that old adage of separation of church and state.
But let’s just set that aside for a moment, because we do have problems in our public schools. A look at local public schools points to a few of those concerns.
Due to COVID, the most recent Iowa Dept. of Education data on district performance is from 2019.
Fort Madison’s post-secondary preparedness for collegiate exam success including the ACT is 50.9%, .8% above the state average. The FMCSD 4-year graduation rate was 88.1%, 3.4% below the state average. The district’s post-secondary readiness participation index in 2019, again the most recent data available, was 41.7%, 8% below the state average.
Central Lee’s comparative numbers for preparedness for post-secondary readiness success was just 40%, but their 4-year graduation rate is 93.7% and their post secondary participation index is 60%, both above the state average.
2020’s online learning has been difficult, and, according to one grandparent at the FMSCD’s school board meeting last Monday, teachers are spending too much time on their phones in the back of the room while proctoring online learning in the classroom.
That grandparent may or may not have been talking about an isolated incident, but it’s no secret that our children in K-12 learn better in person. I personally sat in on an optional online class with Holy Trinity during the pandemic, and not one student showed up for the class.
So online learning is not the best option, and don’t get me started on snow days becoming virtual days. Let the kids go sledding, for Pete’s sake, and have a snowball fight. (Don’t forget the distraction technique. We’ve discussed this before, where you throw the first snowball in the air and then drill your opponent while they’re looking up at the incoming snowball.)
Anyway, while the state’s been trying to figure out their own benchmarks for the past four years, it’s been difficult for teachers and administrators to program for those benchmarks. So the state needs to get that figured out.
But mandating in-school learning while the pandemic is still burning is a little dicey. However, we agree that being in school is better than not being in school when applicable and appropriate.
What is not agreeable is funneling taxpayer dollars to private schools or public charter schools without the same required scrutiny. And that doesn’t seem to be addressed in the bill.
With all that being said, the move is another form of the “absolutely disgusting” political football. This is the first step in using public tax dollars to prop up districts without accountability to tax payers.
It’s where we go back to the separation of church and state, and is an end-run around a critical part of our Constitution.
I’ve covered Holy Trinity students, and FMCSD students’, and Central Lee students’ academic events, successes, honors, etc. and they are on par with each other educationally.
So for me it’s whatever is best for the individual student, and not necessarily the district.
But here’s where the rubber meets the road. Any school that receives public tax dollar support from state-sponsored Educational Savings Accounts, where the money follows the student and not necessarily the district, should be be required to adhere to Chapters 21 and 22 of Iowa code.
In other words, open meetings with published agendas. If Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater or Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier have to be accessible to the media, and ultimately the public, then so should the Holy Trinity Catholic system, if one cent of tax payer money helps prop up the system.
We have no dog in the fight of which school is best – they all have strengths and weaknesses – but the public should always have access to what is happening with the money the government siphons off their hard-earned wages.
This is a GOP-controlled legislature with larger margins than last year, so another easy road to bill passage exists. We all saw how the bargaining rights for public employees were stripped away.
This legislation seems to have the same feel and I think any bill that goes through for a voucher system should get punched in the side by the Iowa Public Information Board on any filed complaints for lack of access.
Speaking of access, if you haven’t seen the ideas and vision behind the new Fort Madison Marina, you’re asleep at the wheel. More than 15,000 people viewed that piece on Pen City Current and that new access is certainly exciting – but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.