Weekend open thread: Back to school edition

Iowa school districts are able to hire back more teachers as the academic year begins, thanks to the fiscal aid Congress approved earlier this month. That’s the bill Terry Branstad avoided talking about for weeks, before finally admitting that he opposed extra federal money to support state education and Medicaid budgets. Republican governors who aren’t in campaign mode understand how foolish it would be to turn down funding for schools and health care. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, whom Branstad seems to admire, is in full-blown Republican hypocrite mode. Daniels echoed the GOP talking points against the stimulus package this summer, but now that it’s law he’s asking for the education and Medicaid money.

I see why Branstad avoided advertising his opposition to the “one-time money”; the extra federal funding has real-world benefits for tens of thousands of Iowa children. In Des Moines public elementary schools, it means time for art, music and physical education will be restored to previous levels, with 13 jobs saved. We were thrilled to learn that the beloved music teacher at my children’s school will be back. He had expected to be assigned elsewhere in the district because of the cuts announced in the spring.

In the third Congressional district race, Leonard Boswell’s campaign highlighted Republican Brad Zaun’s votes against education funding in the Iowa Senate, as well as his promise to try to shut down the federal Department of Education if elected. In contrast, Boswell

has more than doubled the maximum Pell Grant award for Iowa students attending college, and has made the largest investment in federal student aid since the first GI bill was passed. He has continued to support early childhood education programs like Early Head Start and child care services provided through Community Block Development Grants. Boswell has advocated for smaller class sizes in our public schools and voted to save education jobs threatened due to state budget shortfalls.

You can read the Boswell campaign press release at the end of this post. Zaun’s campaign responded by accusing Boswell of “taking decisions away from our local school boards, and having Washington, DC dictate to us.” In case Zaun hadn’t noticed, local school districts are determining which jobs to restore using the additional federal funds. They’re not all making the same decisions. I doubt that the staff at my son’s school feel Washington has “dictated” anything to them. They are just relieved that more funding came through for the current academic year. Why should young kids get short-changed on art, music and p.e. just because they were in grade school during a recession?

Zaun also noted, “Being married to a teacher, I understand what’s going on very well. Despite increased spending, we are witnessing constantly declining performance. We have a problem that Washington, DC can not and will not solve.” That doesn’t explain why he voted against so much state funding for education.  

Speaking of teachers, I was so touched when my older son’s teacher called me on Friday afternoon. After eight months without a sniffle, he got sick this week and had to miss the first two days of school. She was planning to come in to work over the weekend, so she invited us to drop by the classroom on Saturday. She showed him what he missed on Thursday and Friday, and he was able to paint a picture she’ll laminate and hang on his locker.

This is an open thread. What’s up with you this weekend?

P.S. Todd Dorman is not a hobo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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