Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s 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.
Lately I’ve been thinking about why Iowa GOP politicians seem committed to shouting at the rain instead of solving real problems.
I think the answer might be in a quote from the 1995 movie The American President. Fictional President Andrew Shepard says, “We’re a society that has assigned low priority to education and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.”
Remember when Republicans campaigned on parental rights? They shouted about the big, bad, “woke” public school system slamming the door in parents’ faces, because consultants told them they could harvest bushels of votes around this made-up issue.
But they forgot to tell Iowans which parents would have all those rights. Turns out, Republicans thought the only parents who deserved rights are the ones they chose. Those chosen are private school parents, parents whose kids are not LGBTQ, and parents who want their own political ideology to dominate public schools.
That’s not serious people solving serious problems.
That’s political pandering.
The real parental winners in the private school voucher sweepstakes aren’t parents below the poverty level yearning to send their children to private school. They still won’t be able to afford it, since tuition will no doubt rise to match the voucher amount, and education savings account funds can’t be used for transportation costs. Anyway, more than 40 Iowa counties have no private school within easy driving distance.
The real winners will be the suburban white-collar worker with four kids who don’t need special education services. In the third year of the voucher scheme when there’s no longer an income limit, that doctor will receive $7,598 per student or $30,392 per year of taxpayer money with little or no spending accountability.
It’s really welfare for the wealthy.
The other big parental rights winners are groups like Moms for Liberty, which posture as Iowa grassroots while being funded and organized nationally. They want to determine what every child should read and learn. They think it’s within their parental rights to dictate the public-school curriculum for all 485,630 students in 357 school districts. They’ve convinced Governor Kim Reynolds that a book banned in Sioux Center should have restricted access in Iowa City.
Other parents are also losers in the Republican parental rights crusade. Parents of transgender kids, who’ve decided with the help of their physician that gender-affirming care is the right path for their child, will need to make room for big government Republicans in the doctor’s waiting room.
Republicans moved to ban this type of health care because they believe they know more than the parents and doctors. When Republicans had a chance to approve a bipartisan amendment to Senate File 538 giving parents a voice in this decision, they didn’t allow a vote on the measure.
There’s also Senate File 542, which would harm mostly families in disadvantaged communities. That proposal obliterates the child labor laws to allow children as young as 14 to work full shifts in dangerous places like meat packing plants. The bill would hold businesses harmless for children’s injuries on the job, or injuries to others caused by the child. It won’t be legislators’ kids working in these hazardous jobs. It will be kids from financially struggling families.
If politicians are hurting one group to empower another, they’re doing it wrong. These bills run counter to Iowa values. All families deserve rights, not just those selected by the GOP.
Iowa has serious problems, like crumbling roads and bridges, underfunded schools, a workforce crisis, unaddressed mental health needs, poverty, lack of child care, and polluted rivers and lakes. It’s time to elect serious people to tackle serious problems.
Top photo of former Nodaway school district building (now shuttered), courtesy of Pat Shipley.