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Legislature needs to back pre-schools

May 17, 2011
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
Letter to the Editor:

I am to urge the Iowa legislature to support maintaining Iowa’s preschool program and to support a 2% increase in allowable growth for education funding for the 2011-2012 school year. School districts cannot maintain current services to students with 0% allowable growth when the cost for everything from fuel for school buses to food for meals in the cafeteria continues to rise at approximately 2.9 percent annually.

The argument that school districts need to cut costs begs the question of which items should be cut? Transportation and food are not options for rural districts that serve a significant percentage of students on free and reduced lunch plans. Gas prices are up 27 percent and food costs are up 3.6 percent. Perhaps we should cut all sports? Then we would not need to pay coaches or provide uniforms for students. And we wouldn’t need to maintain ball fields or gym facilities. Or maybe we could cut the arts? Students can discover the worlds of art, music, and theatre by watching television. Then we can cut all the people who teach these unnecessary subjects. Or should we cut technology? Students don’t really need access to computers, and maintenance of those computers really isn’t essential, is it? We could cut libraries because students don’t need to read books, do they?

Cutting support staff may be an option in large, urban districts, but smaller, rural districts already run on a bare bones staff. Many of these people are paid hourly wages and receive no benefits, but their incomes keep their families from needing food assistance or other welfare services. In my school district, there are no assistant principals, no “extra” teachers, and almost every certified staff member serves not only as a classroom teacher, but also as a sponsor of an extracurricular activity, coach of a sport, or as part of leadership teams within each building.

Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not have summers off. Teachers in my district take professional development courses offered by universities and the AEAs. We continue to attend planning meetings and participate in efforts that will increase student achievement even though we are not being paid to do so. Requirements by the Iowa Department of Education mandate our continuing professional development through the accumulation of college credit hours over each 5-year period. These hours of professional development are not free. Iowa’s public school teachers support Iowa’s universities by paying the ever-increasing tuition for gradate hours because the legislature continues to cut funding to the university system as well. Iowa’s teachers pay fees to the Board of Educational Examiners every five years to have our college credits approved and our licenses renewed. Iowa teachers purchase goods and services in their communities, supporting the local economy.

I find Governor Branstad’s four goals (create 200,000 new jobs, 25 percent increase in family incomes, best schools in the nation, and 15 percent reduction in the cost of government) problematic if the solution to reduction in government is to cut jobs and benefits for teachers. Preschool teachers who are forced out of the public school system will definitely not see an increase in family income or add to the job creation roster. Cutting preschool and underfunding education will not result in better schools for Iowa’s children. Forcing school districts to reduce teaching staff in order to survive on less funding results in more job losses. And the implied argument that teachers are a bunch of greedy, benefit-hogging loafers who are no more than glorified baby-sitters on the public dole is insulting and erroneous.

Additionally, where will these laid-off teachers get jobs? If every district is cutting, then no one is hiring. Shall they move to states that need teachers, further decreasing the population of Iowa and the state’s tax base? More likely, they will be unable to move because of the depressed housing market. Then they will join the ranks of the unemployed, further increasing Iowa’s jobless rate. And if they are able to get other jobs in the interim to make ends meet, those will likely be jobs in retail or other service industries on a part-time basis. And they’ll need two or three of those so that they can pay the mortgage and not contribute to the foreclosure crisis gripping this nation. And of course they will be without benefits, and swell the ranks of those needing access to Hawk-I. Many teachers that I work with are not married, or they are married to other teachers. It’s not as if the teaching profession is just full of women who are merely second wage earners in two-income families. Some of us are the primary wage earner for our families, and our jobs are the sole source of health benefits. Am I painting a grim enough picture?

I realize Republicans may feel obligated to stand with Governor Branstad and other members of the GOP as a matter of principle. But as a constituent, I am urging all legislators to stand with those of us who serve the public as educators. We are taxpayers. We fuel economic development by buying locally and supporting businesses in our communities. And, most importantly, we teach Iowa’s future.

Again, I urge the Iowa Legislature to maintain the preschool program and fund Iowa’s schools at a minimum of 2 percent allowable growth. Stand up for Iowa’s future.

Dixie Forcht



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