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GROB: The Iowa legislature’s assault on teachers

By James Grob, [email protected]

School districts in Iowa are having a hard time finding teachers. And teacher’s aides. And principals. Bus drivers. School cooks, librarians and guidance counselors. And, as we’re finding out locally, districts are even struggling to find superintendents.

It seems as though no one in the state of Iowa wants to work in a public school anymore.

Gee, I wonder why.

A friend of mine who I’ve known since high school sent me a message a few weeks ago. She’s a teacher in Iowa, and although I’ve never sat in her classroom, I can tell you that she is incredibly qualified, academically, for the job. She also has the perfect temperament and disposition to interact with young minds.

Think of the best, most likable teacher you’ve ever had, and I’ll bet the house that it’s someone who’s exactly like my friend.

“ … I am quitting at the end of the school year, I am not going to teach anymore, anywhere,” she told me. “I will teach college if I become desperate, but a receptionist job is looking really good right now. This year is a nightmare.”

There were more than 50 education bills introduced during this year’s Iowa legislative session, including proposals to place surveillance cameras in public school classrooms, ban books, jail teachers and take funding away from public schools to support private institutions.

The legislators proposing these bills have said that they’re doing it to promote transparency and parental choice in public education. That’s a lie.

Senate President Jake Chapman opened this year’s legislative session referring to public school teachers as the enemy — and insinuated that they were pedophiles. That’s all you need to know. These bills aren’t pro-parent or pro-student, they’re anti-teacher.

“One doesn’t have to look far to see the sinister agenda occurring right before our eyes,” Chapman said. “The attack on our children is no longer hidden. Those who wish to normalize sexually deviant behavior against our children, including pedophilia and incest, are pushing this movement more than ever before. Our children should be safe and free from this atrocious assault.”

This is, of course, nonsense. Ugly heightened rhetoric to provoke reactions. But enough people buy it.

Gee, I wonder why educators in Iowa don’t want to work here anymore.

Never mind that the vast majority of public school teachers and administrators are also parents, which makes the whole “parental choice” portion of the argument against them a condescending pile of doo-doo. Let’s also keep in mind that in most Iowa communities, the local school district is one of the city’s largest employers and the life’s blood of the town. You take away the school, you kill the town.

The latest bill — ironically called the “Students First Act” — would grant taxpayer-funded vouchers to up to 10,000 qualifying low-to-moderate income families to be used for tuition and books at private schools.

It would allocate $55.2 million for students who transfer to private schools. Each student who uses a voucher would receive roughly $5,500, or about 70% of the state’s $7,500 per-pupil allocation for students who attend Iowa’s k-12 public schools.

Proponents of the bill say it creates opportunities for more families to provide their children with the education choice that’s best for them. It certainly would not.

It would actually drain public schools of their already-limited resources and give families fewer choices. It would potentially kill communities like this one.

This bill comes hot on the heels of a bill which requires public school districts to send parents a list of all instructional materials their kids will see, a syllabus outlining the course, and an explanation of how the course satisfies state education requirements.

These items have to be sent to families before the start of every school year, and if the items are altered during the semester, parents have to be notified by the end of that school week. Parents can ask to have their kid excluded from certain materials.

If a teacher or school is found to be in violation of this, they have 14 days to comply, or face a fine of between $500 and $5,000.

The same bill says schools must develop a process for reviewing and removing library books, and give parents a clear process to follow if they want to get a book banned.

Fining teachers because you don’t like the subject they teach? Banning books? I recall my school days, when I learned in history class that governments under Hitler and Stalin did the same thing.

Showing disrespect and animosity toward public school teachers is now in fashion, and it trickles down. The students hear the rhetoric.

Just ask the family of Nohema Graber, a 66-year-old Spanish teacher who was beaten to death with a baseball bat last fall in Fairfield. It would be nice to hear the Senate president or the governor say something nice about her, instead of hearing them label teachers as the enemy.

It would be nice to know that just one of the 50+ bills introduced had something to do with protecting and respecting teachers, who are increasingly becoming the targets of violence by teenage students.

Two 16-year-old students allegedly murdered Graber after scheming over social media to kill her. They monitored her routine before ambushing her on her daily walk in a city park. They killed her with the bat and later hid her body and her car, according to court documents. Both students have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a forcible felony.

This incident has not been addressed by the state Legislature, and the media coverage has been astonishingly minimal. You would think that two students murdering their teacher in a quiet little town where things like this never happen would get more attention. You’d think that this woman would get a little more respect.

Do you still wonder why no one wants to teach in Iowa anymore?

I don’t.

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