Iowa teachers and educational support are under attack. Governor Terry Branstad is cutting an already thin budget. (More)
As part of the revised Iowa budget, Gov. Branstad is cutting education finances to the bone. In the middle of the current fiscal year, he has come into office and informed the school districts and Area Education Agencies that their finances are being cut. He has made it known that he has no intention of the state helping the districts and agencies meet the retirement fund commitments and union contract commitments that are already established for this year. He also has announced that the recently implemented free preschool for 4 year olds is being totally revamped.
This means that the districts and agencies must meet these obligations by cutting other funds to make up the shortfall caused by the state not honoring these obligations. For the case of one Area Education Agency, this has meant layoffs for 43 employees.
Governor Branstad had explained that the necessary funds could be found without cutting services to children. Unfortunately he was wrong. In addition to the preschool program, employees being dismissed include social workers, vision screeners, Early Childhood specialists (including screening in early childhood for physical and learning disabilities), and assistive technolgy specialists. This is a direct attack on the students who most need assistance in learning.
In addition to the cuts already made, the Republican Iowa House has before it a proposed law which would stop teachers from paying union dues through paycheck deductions. In addition, there are fights over how much money will be cut from the school district and AEA budgets for 2011/2012.
I am deeply disturbed that Iowa is taking giant steps backwards in making sure that the students in the state get the best education possible. The preschool program was being heralded as a model program to be used not just throughout the country but throughout the world. The idea was that by providing the free preschool to all 4 year olds that were enrolled, everyone would enter kindergarten with a more level playing field and be able to start learning from the same level.
In addition to education taking a hit, the attack on public employee unions is becoming more evident. The cuts at the AEA mentioned above was done without the foreknowledge of the employee union, and those laid off were not allowed the promised benefit of having a union representative present during the announcement of the loss of their job. It isn’t yet clear if the options that should have been presented to them were actually mentioned at all. The union is absolutely furious that this was allowed to happen.
At this point, it is still not clear why specific programs that benefit the children of the state seem to have been targeted. It is also not clear whether this came from state officials, or whether this was a decision of the AEA board itself.
It is vital that people throughout Iowa and all of the other states under similar assault from Republican education and public union policies work at keeping the public informed as to what is happening, and how voting is vital to stopping such actions.
I started yesterday by talking to several people, including one of my cubicle neighbors. She was quite upset with what had happened, but didn’t realize that this was just a part of a pattern playing out in Des Moines and other state capitals across the country. By talking about what is important to the children of the state, I was able to make her aware of how important her vote is. She is about the same age as I am, but has never voted before. When I asked why, she said that she was afraid of being called for jury duty. She is so concerned about jury duty that she has avoided voting all this time. I talked about a few of the juries that I had been on, what the cases were about, and how most of the time the jury duty isn’t a matter of life and death. With that information, and her anger at what is happening, she has promised to register to vote and start voting in 2012. I plan on following up periodically with further conversations about how her vote is important.