Public school advocates need to be single-issue voters

Bruce Lear: As Iowa’s education foundation crumbles, public school supporters need to be as persistent and passionate as the governor. 

It’s no secret single-issue voters are loud, proud, and powerful. They fuel campaigns with rhetoric and resources. When choosing candidates, they focus on their long-term goals and don't demand perfection over what's possible.  

That’s how America woke up to find Donald Trump elected president. Thanks to three U.S. Supreme Court justices he appointed, the court is poised to ignore 49 years of precedent by turning back the clock to when women had few rights, slavery was commonplace, and only land-owning, white, males counted.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve heard educators say, “Yes, public education is important, but it’s not the only issue.”  

There have been lots of excuses for not putting education first. They sound something like this.

“My church says ___________, and I go to Sunday school with these people.”   

“You know, my husband has a lot of guns for hunting, and he thinks ____________.”

 “I really don’t like politics. I just want to be in my classroom with my kids, and teach.”

“Politicians are alike.  It doesn’t matter what party.  They all lie.”

But those excuses are getting tired, as Iowa’s education foundation crumbles, and dedicated, talented, educators race for the exits. 

I realize educators can't solve this problem alone. This is a community crisis, so, it needs a community solution. Anyone, no matter what party, who wants to protect their community school need to become a loud, proud, single-issue-education-voter before it’s too late. 

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a private school. But if I choose to join a private club to play golf instead of using the public course, should my neighbor pay for my choice? I don’t think so.

Public school supporters need to be at least as persistent and passionate as Governor Kim Reynolds. She has shown her true commitment to private schools in three public ways.

First, she forced the legislature into nearly a month of overtime so she could twist some rural Republican arms to choose private schools over public and vote for her school voucher scheme. It didn’t work.

She also lobbied public school superintendents, hoping to make them dizzy enough from her spin to publicly support vouchers—even though the plan would steal needed money from the underfunded schools they represent. It’s a little like an unarmed robber asking the bank president to pretty please open the vault and hand him the money. It didn’t work.

Finally, when those moves failed, Reynolds decided to impose her will by getting involved in some Iowa House GOP primaries, where the incumbent representative refused to knuckle under. 

Voters shouldn’t allow that to work either.

No other Iowa governor has played this kind of hardball in modern history. It shows three things: how committed she is to helping private schools, how powerful she thinks she is, and how much she has learned from Trump.

If Reynolds is successful in her re-election campaign, she’ll take another swing at retooling her voucher plan. I predict the third revision will be worse than the other two combined, because to pass it, she’ll l need to broaden who’ll qualify. She will also need to appease rural lawmakers whose constituents have no private school within driving distance. 

So, to sweeten her scheme just enough for 51 votes in the Iowa House, I anticipate that homeschoolers will become qualified for the "scholarships." That means fewer standards, less accountability, and more public money spent on a new private entitlement that will never disappear and will only grow.

Remember, the best way to stop a bad politician is when good people vote. Public schools and our future are on the ballot.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring. 

Top photo of the state capitol was taken by Bruce Lear and published with permission.

  • Apparently I don't qualify as a public-school advocate... I'll settle for being a public school friend. Even though I'm a several-issue voter and intend to remain one, I bet I'll end up voting the same way as the advocates.

  • Thank you Bruce for rallying support for public schools

    The simple truth is Reynolds wants to find a way to shovel public money to her friends whose kids are already in private schools. The other simple truth is there aren’t 10000 additional desks for new voucher-supported kids in private schools, especially if her ostensible targets, i.e., kids who aren’t faring well in local schools, like special needs or incorrigible youngsters. (You know, those in “failing” public schools.) Private schools don’t want to gear up to teach these children, and aren’t qualified to do so. I read one report saying there are only 27 secular private schools in the state, so the remainder would have to be the parochial, which again raises the question of church-state issues. Reynolds plan is a ruse, a political machination, having little to do with improving the state’s delivery system for quality. Yes, teachers should be enraged. As you say many are tired and looking for the way out. I’m not sure parents understand the terrorism the Republicans have unleashed since 2017…of how the terror has whittled away at the excellence in public education the state (again, ostensibly) wants for children. The mirage of voucher-infused excellence is wrong, as you say, 1) for asking taxpayers to underwrite a parent’s alternative choice and 2) for deluding lower-income voters that there’s a golden ring out there for them.

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