Randy Richardson

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State agency released misleading school voucher numbers

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

On January 26, a month later than planned, the Iowa Department of Education released a summary of the annual certified enrollment numbers for Iowa’s public and private K-12 schools. The agency’s news release also provided our first look at the impact “education savings accounts” (also known as school vouchers) have had on public school enrollment across Iowa.

Public school enrollment for the current academic year was 483,699, a decrease of 2,776.8 students (0.57 percent) from the previous year. Conversely, private schools had a total enrollment of 36,195 students, an increase of 2,503 students (7.4 percent) over the previous year.

When you dig into the voucher numbers, however, things begin to get interesting. According to the Department of Education, 16,757 students used vouchers this year to attend a private school.

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Who's behind the surge in Iowa's charter school applications

UPDATE: The Iowa State Board of Education approved all of the applications described below on January 11. Original post follows.

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

The Iowa Department of Education recently announced that five groups have applied to open eight new charter schools in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids for the 2024/2025 school year. Only one of those five groups is based in Iowa.

The full applications for each proposed charter school are available on this page of the Department of Education’s website. Be aware that some of these applications stretch to nearly 400 pages, so if you want to review them, plan to spend some time on the task.

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Vouchers have mixed impact on Iowa’s largest schools

Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville, Iowa, in photo from the school’s Facebook page

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Although the Iowa Department of Education won’t release official enrollment numbers until mid-December, available data already show how the new education savings accounts (commonly known as school vouchers) are affecting some of our state’s largest school districts.

The Council Bluffs Community Schools recently announced that they lost 30 students to nearby St. Albert Catholic School. The loss of those students means the district will lose $234,000 in state funding. Since teachers are already under contract for this year, and the decline in enrollment isn’t concentrated on one grade, the district will have a difficult time reducing costs.

In an interview with Sean MacKinnon of Omaha-based TV station KETV, Council Bluffs superintendent Vicki Murillo chose to look on the bright side by noting that while 30 students left the Council Bluffs school district, nearly 9,000 decided to stay.

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Costs soar for Iowa's school voucher plan

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican-controlled legislature agreed to a budget that allocated $107 million in fiscal year 2024 to pay for private school vouchers for an estimated 14,068 students. But the number of Iowans who applied for “education savings accounts” vastly exceeded that number: 29,025 applications by the June 30 deadline.

The good folks at the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, who usually do an excellent job of forecasting costs, calculated the original estimate. However, when the actual number is more than double your forecast, something is off somewhere.

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Divisive politics, Kim Reynolds, and the Moms for Liberty

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

The last two presidential elections have highlighted the deep divides between Democrats and Republicans. According to information from the Pew Research Center a month before the 2020 election, roughly 8 in 10 registered voters in both camps said their differences with the other side were about core American values, and roughly 9 in 10—again in both camps—worried that a victory by the other would lead to “lasting harm” to the United States.

Although I’m well aware of this divide and have probably contributed to it in some small way, I still long for the days when a true leader would rise above partisanship and work for the common good of their constituents.

That hope was dashed at the recent Moms for Liberty event in Des Moines on February 2.

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Concept charter school application raises questions

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association. Amy Moore, Ed.D is a longtime Iowa public school educator.

Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill in May 2021 that made it easier to organize charter schools in Iowa. Two Iowa-based entities took advantage of the change and applied to start charter schools the following year. Choice Charter School is an online only school for grades 9-12 that enrolled 96 students as on November 4. They hope to increase enrollment to around 300 students by the end of the year.

Hamburg Charter High School is located in Southwest Iowa and operates as a career and technical academy that enrolls 35 students. Hamburg lost its high school in 2015 after the Department of Education found they had overspent state dollars and had offered insufficient classes. The charter school provides an option for high school students in that area.

In November of this year, Iowa received its first charter school application from an out-of-state organization. Concept Schools, an Illinois-based, nonprofit charter school management company, is seeking to open the Horizon Science Academy. If approved, the school would focus on enrolling students from low-income and minority neighborhoods.

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It’s time to talk about teacher pay

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

In 2019 I wrote a Bleeding Heartland article about the growing disparity between administrative and teacher salaries. At the time I didn’t anticipate that the situation would get much worse. I hoped that Iowa’s ever-increasing rainy day funds might be used when pay became more of a problem. 

Regrettably, here I am again three years later, encouraging Iowans to focus on what has become a major issue.

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Our public schools need a fighter like Shannon Henson

Randy Richardson: Shannon Henson’s background and experience make her most ready to lead among the six Democrats running in Iowa House district 36.

For more than a decade, Republican lawmakers in Iowa have consistently underfunded our public schools and chipped away at the rights of our educators. Teachers and support staff have lost most of their collective bargaining rights, and teachers are now under attack for their so-called “sinister agenda.”

Public schools are the great equalizer. Ideally, they allow children—regardless of their family’s socioeconomic status, the foundation they need for their future. In Iowa, 485,000 children attend our public schools.

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Iowa's flat tax may mean fewer public services

Randy Richardson: Everyone likes paying lower taxes until they realize they may not receive the same benefits from the government.

Americans hate taxes. Other countries have taxes, including some with much higher tax rates, but for some reason their citizens don’t have the same objections as their American counterparts.

There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the most common is that many Americans are simply unaware of what government does for them. A 2008 Cornell Survey Research Institute poll showed that 57 percent of respondents said they had never participated in a government social program. However, 94 percent of these same respondents reported being the beneficiary of at least one federal government program, with the average participant benefiting from four of them.

Which brings me to the recently enacted flat income tax bill in Iowa.

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Kim Reynolds’ school voucher plan is pure politics

Randy Richardson: Most of the benefit will go to middle class students in regular education and small districts in heavily Republican areas.

During her recent Condition of the State address, Governor Kim Reynolds announced her intent to create Students First Scholarships. Among educators these “scholarships” are more commonly known as “vouchers.”

Parents could use the scholarships to cover the costs of moving their children from public schools to private ones. Any remaining funds could help cover qualified education expenses such as tutoring, curriculum or material costs, vocational or life skills training, and community college or other higher education expenses.

Each voucher will be equal to $5,359, or 70 percent of a state education funding for each K-12 public school student. The remaining $2,270 or 30 percent will remain with the state to be reallocated to smaller, often rural, school districts.

According to the governor, this will be done because losing funding for just one student can have a significant impact in a small rural school. Of course, this is an election year and those small schools happen to be located in heavily Republican parts of the state.

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Republicans continue to attack Iowa public schools

Randy Richardson reviews the education bills Iowa lawmakers passed during the 2021 session. -promoted by Laura Belin

According to the Republican Party of Iowa’s website, Republicans believe “individuals, not the government, make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights; and decisions are best made close to home.”

While the party may espouse those beliefs, their actions on public education hardly exemplify those statements.

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Open letter to Ann Meyer on teacher recruitment, retention

Republican State Representative Ann Meyer introduced a bill to address a pressing problem for Iowa schools. Randy Richardson argues we don’t need a new task force to figure out why students aren’t becoming teachers or why teachers are leaving the profession. -promoted by Laura Belin

Dear Ann,

I read with great interest House File 101, which you introduced this week. As you know, the bill calls for the creation of a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force consisting of 21 people appointed by the Iowa Department of Education director. The task force will study why students aren’t entering the teaching field, why many teachers are leaving the profession, and what can be done to attract a more diverse group of teaching candidates.

A reasonable person would assume that the task force would be made up of a large number of teachers, since they would offer some key insights into the issues. Unfortunately, your bill requires the appointment of only three teachers (and one of them can come from an Area Education Agency).

While the intent of the bill is laudable, the need for a task force to determine why this is an issue is laughable.

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The madness of Queen Kim

Randy Richardson: Now that schools are open, you can see the folly of the governor’s lack of leadership. All of the consistency that promotes student learning is gone. -promoted by Laura Belin

Many years ago I was sitting in Professor Pat Kolasa’s Human Growth and Development class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I still remember Pat telling all of us future teachers that one of the keys to student learning was consistency. She went on to explain that students needed to have a clear understanding of classroom procedures and their importance. That message stuck with me as I became a teacher and parent.

Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds never had Pat Kolasa as a teacher.

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Iowa governor's proclamation creates confusion for schools

Randy Richardson: Governor Kim Reynolds’ latest proclamation appears to override all of the work done by school districts and strikes at the very heart of our long tradition of local control of school districts. -promoted by Laura Belin

Usually when an elected leader holds a press conference to offer additional guidance on a topic, everyone leaves with a deeper understanding of the issue. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case following Governor Kim Reynolds’ July 17 press conference on students returning to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, we got a new interpretation of a law that went into effect on July 1, which runs counter to much of the work schools have been doing.

Following the press conference, the governor released a proclamation that limits the ability of both public and private schools to offer remote learning and which loosens the current requirements on the qualifications for substitute teachers.

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Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and coronavirus

Randy Richardson: “As a former baseball player and coach, I miss the sport as much as anyone, but is opening high school baseball and softball seasons really a good decision?” -promoted by Laura Belin

Governor Kim Reynolds announced on May 20 that summer athletic seasons may proceed for high school baseball and softball in Iowa, following a two-month activities suspension due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Her proclamation allowed the reopening of school facilities and practices beginning on Monday, June 1.

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Who’ll stop the rain

Randy Richardson: Iowa’s “rainy day” funds were created with a promise, to be used on a rainy day. Legislators should tap them now to fully fund schools. -promoted by Laura Belin

For the past year Republicans have touted their record-breaking commitment to funding education in Iowa. They have done this despite the fact that State Supplemental Aid only increased by an average of 1.73 percent from 2011 to 2018. That is slightly below the 1.81 percent average annual rate of inflation during that same time period. (School district costs typically rise by 3-4 percent annually.)

When questioned about this disparity, Republicans quickly revert to their consistent talking point that their funding “is responsible, sustainable, and demonstrates that education is a top priority.”

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Iowa needs one insurance plan for all public employees

Randy Richardson argues that it’s time to revive an idea first proposed for public school districts four decades ago. -promoted by Laura Belin

When I started teaching in 1976, I received fully paid family health insurance as part of my benefits package. That coverage included a $100/$200 deductible. Although this was considered to be a “Cadillac plan,” it was not uncommon to find similar coverage at schools across Iowa. The teachers in my district felt this insurance plan was very important and, over the years, often sacrificed salary increases to keep the coverage.

Shortly after I left the district in 1996, one of my former co-workers was diagnosed with a serious illness and claims from that incident ran well into six figures. Insurance premiums skyrocketed and, in an effort to keep premiums at a reasonable level, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses increased.

Today that district offers a high deductible insurance plan with a single deductible of $3,250 and a family deductible of $6,500. Teachers in that district who wish to have family coverage must contribute more than $1,000 per month to receive that coverage. That alone would be tragic. Even worse, the same scenario has played out in every school district in the state.

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Salary gap between Iowa teachers and school administrators widens

Randy Richardson found that Iowa teacher pay is lagging further behind salaries for principals and superintendents. The growing disparity “should be a cause for concern,” he argues. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Economic Policy Institute released a report on August 14 detailing the huge wage gap between CEOs and their employees. That report focused on private sector workers and their bosses.

Since local school districts are among the largest employers in Iowa, I thought it would be worthwhile to compare the salaries of school district administrators and teachers.

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The level playing field has tipped against Iowa teachers

Republicans claimed collective bargaining changes would level the playing field in contract talks. Randy Richardson, retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, examines the impact on teachers. -promoted by Laura Belin

In February 2017, Republican lawmakers rammed through a bill that quickly changed the dynamic of collective bargaining for public employees in Iowa. The bill eliminated virtually all of the mandatory items that unions and their employers were required to bargain, with the exception of base salary. It left in place a short list of “permissive” items that public employees and employers could bargain by mutual consent, and prohibited bargaining on some other topics. The bill sparked outrage among all public employees and their supporters.

Shortly before the bill became law, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow published an article on the Iowa House Republican website called “Collective Bargaining: Fact vs. Fiction.” One passage from that article became a major Republican talking point in defense of their actions. Hagenow wrote,

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Iowa teacher salary dollars go unspent

Randy Richardson, retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, has closely followed contract negotiations in public schools for many years. -promoted by Laura Belin

This is the time of the year when “bargaining season” wraps up for Iowa’s teachers. Under the collective bargaining law in place for more than 40 years, most local unions would have either reached a voluntary agreement with their school board or be headed to mediation, or possibly arbitration.

Unfortunately, the bargaining law enacted in 2017 has changed this pattern. Now, local teacher groups can only bargain their base salaries and have limited abilities to seek help through the arbitration process. Consequently, many school boards across the state are offering teachers “one-time” increases in pay with no advancement on a salary schedule. Those increases are often so little that when combined with the additional costs of health insurance, many teachers will be taking home less money in 2019-20 than they did this year.

School officials will say that minimal pay raises stem mainly from a lack of state government support. They are correct that Iowa schools have received historically small increases in state funding over the last eight years. However, some school districts have managed to accumulate a large “pot” of money that can only be spent on teacher salaries, and for some reason, they aren’t spending it.

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Show me the money: Is your school district hoarding cash? (updated)

Exclusive reporting by Randy Richardson on Iowa school districts that have accumulated excessive cash reserves. -promoted by Laura Belin

The last eight years haven’t been kind to Iowa’s public school districts. During that time the Supplemental State Aid (the money local districts can spend on their regular program budgets) has been on a downward trend — from a 4 percent increase in fiscal year 2010 to a 1.8 percent average increase over the last eight years. Many school districts have been forced to tighten their belts by laying off staff or giving out smaller pay raises.

However, a few Iowa districts have found a way to spend far less of their resources and have accumulated huge savings during this time period.

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Iowa’s defense of (whose) marriage act

Randy Richardson spotlights a terrible (and likely unconstitutional) bill whose sponsor has previously proposed other wacky ideas related to marriage and divorce. -promoted by Laura Belin

I volunteer for a group called Iowans for Public Education, following the legislature to see what bills impact education. As I went through bills introduced at the last minute in an effort to beat the first major legislative deadline, a non-education bill caught my eye.

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County election maps don’t tell the whole story

Randy Richardson comments on the outcome in Iowa’s third Congressional district. -promoted by desmoinesdem

During the 2016 presidential election. I began to notice that several news channels made extensive use of county maps to explain election results. Following the 2018 midterm elections, several Iowa newspapers used similar maps to highlight the rural/urban split in election results.

However, those maps tend to give a skewed view of the election.

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Smaller districts more likely to strip optional items from teacher contracts

Randy Richardson, retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, has closely followed contract negotiations in Iowa public schools for many years. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Since the 2017 passage of a Republican bill to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees, a little more than 8,000 teachers (out of a total of just over 36,000 statewide) in 107 school districts have lost the benefits and rights they enjoyed in their master contracts.

The new law allowed districts to remove items that were deemed “permissive” from collective bargaining agreements. That included such topics as leaves, grievance procedure, and in-service days. Many of those items had been bargained years ago and had been in master contracts for well over 30 years.

I thought it might be worthwhile to see if these districts had any commonalities.

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What’s up with the Iowa Association of School Boards?

Randy Richardson, retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, connects some dots. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The very first sentence on the “About” page of the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) website reads, “Since 1946, the Iowa Association of School Boards has been committed to serving Iowa school boards and public schools.” However, public school employees may begin to wonder given some of the organization’s recent actions.

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What happened on education during the Iowa legislature's final week

Randy Richardson has the rundown on how the Iowa legislature’s final actions of 2018 will affect public school districts and higher education. -promoted by desmoinesdem

While controversial issues like abortion and tax reform grabbed the headlines last week, a number of bills impacting education saw last-minute approval before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year on May 5.

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Iowa’s collective bargaining law, one year later

Randy Richardson has previously written about the consequences of Iowa collective bargaining changes here, here, and here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have walked out of classrooms and shut schools across their states in protest of poor funding and attacks on pensions. Arizona teachers have joined the protests after years of underfunding schools in that state. In Iowa the new collective bargaining law has been in effect for a little over a year and many teachers are just now realizing the impact of the dramatic changes brought about by the legislation.

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Do we really need a test to measure civics knowledge?

Randy Richardson reports on a proposed Republican solution in search of a problem for Iowa schools. -promoted by desmoinesdem

According to a study by the Council of Great City Schools, a typical student takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade. At least a few of those tests are of dubious value.

Now it appears as though one more test may be required in Iowa schools. GOP State Senator Jerry Behn from Boone introduced Senate File 2341, which would require Iowa students to take and pass a 100 question multiple choice civics test as a requirement for graduation.

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Iowa teachers are feeling the burn(out)

Randy Richardson reviews six factors pushing educators to leave the profession. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I left the classroom in 1996. I still tell people that teaching was the best job I ever had. But after 20 years in the classroom I had simply had enough of coaching, chaperoning every high school dance, teaching six different preps every day, and dealing with unreasonable parents.

Things have changed a lot in the intervening years, and the job of being a teacher has become even more difficult. Recently more than 180 teachers applied for the early retirement incentive offered by the Des Moines Public Schools. So what does cause perfectly capable teachers to suddenly decide to step away from the classroom?

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School vouchers make first Iowa legislative appearance of 2018

Randy Richardson is a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The first of what will likely be multiple “school choice” bills appeared last week when Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren introduced Senate File 2091. The bill creates Education Savings Grants, which would be available to certain students attending non-public schools or who are receiving competent private instruction (CPI). Parents or guardians could apply for the grants if:

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Change to Iowa's bargaining law has real impact on these teachers

Randy Richardson was involved with teacher contract negotiations for many years as associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Last year the Iowa legislature passed House File 291. That bill stripped many of the collective bargaining rights that teachers had negotiated with school districts over the past 40 years. While the majority of school districts agreed to extend the existing contract or keep permissive items in those contracts, more than 40 districts stripped all permissive and illegal bargaining items from those documents. Most of those districts agreed to place the permissive items in a new “teacher handbook” that would provide guidance for how employees and school districts interacted. One of those districts was the Howard-Winneshiek (Crestwood) school district in northern Iowa.

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Who benefits from expanding options on teacher retirement plans?

Randy Richardson, retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, shares the backstory on regulations Iowa Republicans weakened during this year’s legislative session. -promoted by desmoinesdem

On December 8, Bleeding Heartland shared a post entitled “Iowa Republicans Found Yet Another Way to Hurt Teachers This Year.” The post outlines the passage of House File 569, a bill that allowed 30 additional vendors to offer 403(b) products to teachers starting this year. GOP State Senator Tim Kraayenbrink, who is also a financial adviser, dismissed Democrats’ claims that the array of investments would be too confusing and allow companies to charge exorbitant fees on teachers’ savings. But is that accurate?

As someone who was very involved in the transition to the Retired Investors Club that is administered by the Department of Administrative Services, I thought it might be a good time to revisit why this all took place.

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Alternative teacher pay plans returning to Iowa

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, explains how an alternative to the traditional salary schedule could affect teachers across Iowa. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Teachers in Iowa and across the country are typically paid based upon a negotiated salary schedule. This schedule includes a “base salary” for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no previous teaching experience. In addition, the salary schedule includes vertical “steps” that increase pay each year (up to a maximum number of years) as teachers accrue more experience, and horizontal steps that allow teachers to earn more pay based upon getting additional education. These horizontal steps usually include additional pay for academic credit hours beyond a bachelor’s degree and another bump with the earning of advanced degrees (masters and PhD).

In Iowa, teachers usually entered into negotiations every year with the school district to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement. This agreement included any increases to the base pay and any structural changes to the salary scheduled itself (adding steps or lanes, for instance). Unfortunately for Iowa teachers, this practice is coming to a screeching halt due to significant changes to our collective bargaining law.

Under the new law teachers can only bargain changes to the base salary they receive. The salary schedule itself is now under the complete control of the school district.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law-Part III

Former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association Randy Richardson wraps up his review of teacher contract negotiations under Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In the first two parts of this series, we examined how Republicans changed collective bargaining for public employees and the new law’s impact on Iowa teachers.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law

First in a series by Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association. He previously discussed the impact of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law on teacher contact negotiations here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I was asked to write an article about the changes in Iowa’s collective bargaining and how it will impact teachers across the state. As I began to develop my thoughts on this topic, the article got longer and longer, so I decided to break it into three sections.

We’ll start off by looking at what happened when the law changed, then move to its impact on teachers and then take a look into the future.

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Collective bargaining changes bring new challenges and opportunities

Randy Richardson explains how Iowa’s new collective bargaining law is affecting contract negotiations for teachers. -promoted by desmoinesdem

A lot has been written about the changes Republican lawmakers pushed through on collective bargaining for public employees. The original law, adopted during the term of a Republican governor and approved by a bipartisan vote, has been in existence for over forty years. I became a chief negotiator for our local education association during my second year as a teacher (1977) and remained active in bargaining until my retirement in 2016.

As a former teacher I can appreciate the trauma these changes have brought about for educators. Unfortunately the general public, who has likely not participated in the bargaining process, may find some of these changes hard to understand.

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Education appropriations bill makes significant policy changes

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, provides his personal assessment of important language in the education appropriations bill, which Republicans will likely approve this week. -desmoinesdem

With the end of the legislative session drawing near, much of the work left for lawmakers is agreeing to a final budget. Last week the Iowa House introduced a number of appropriations bills. Included among them was House File 642, the education appropriations bill.

For fiscal year 2018-2019 the bill appropriates monies from the general fund of the State to the Department for the Blind, the College Student Aid Commission, the Department of Education, and the State Board of Regents and the institutions it governs, at generally 50 percent of the amounts appropriated for the same purposes for the prior fiscal year. In addition to establishing budget numbers the bill also contains quite a bit of language that modifies Iowa Code.

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Senate education omnibus bill awaits House vote

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, provides his personal assessment of a bill that has flown below the radar. -desmoinesdem

It’s a jab, a right cross, a left hook followed by a right uppercut. That’s how it seems for educators in Iowa since the General Assembly convened in January. The most recent blow came almost one month ago when Senator Amy Sinclair introduced Senate Study Bill 1137 in an education subcommittee meeting. That bill eventually became Senate File 475, the Education Omnibus Bill. The bill has passed the Senate with limited support from Democrats and now sits in the House awaiting debate and a vote.

The thirteen page bill, carefully divided into seven divisions, contains a lot of items that educators hate and very little that would be considered redeeming.

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