Kids as Political Footballs …

Not sure if you’ve seen the Des Moines Register this morning … if not click here (or read the copy/paste below).  Well, my day started so well – we’re working on our Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) grant application – the irony of stopping our work on one of those infamous “targeted funding” opportunities to read the governor’s defense of his actions just makes me shake my head … As I’ve stated before, “targeted funding” is certainly not a bad thing – in fact philosophically it makes some sense to me.  However, here we sit at I-35 not having received a dime the past two years for TLC while other districts have … Further, the obvious intent of targeted funding is so the state can control what happens in the schools – my take is that local schools obviously can’t be trusted to make decisions.  So no one thinks I’m a thoughtless radical that just wants money and to be left alone to do whatever – I’m not.  I understand and endorse basic requirements from the state for all schools – with rising transiency among our students and families, having consistency between districts makes great sense.  All kids, regardless of where they attend school, deserve a quality education.  I also believe the concept of local control was a cornerstone in the development of public education.  Again, targeted funding makes some sense – as long as it doesn’t supplant money needed to cover the basic expenses of providing an education for our kids.  If I remember correctly the governor promised TLC funding would not supplant regular funding to schools.  Well, 1.25% for next year, his line-item veto of additional one-time funding, and including TLC funding in press releases on how well the state has funded public education seem to make his statement suspect. Targeted funding is well … targeted … which means it can only be used for the specific purpose – it can’t be used to pay the energy bills, transportation costs to get kids to and from schools (how many schools in Iowa would be classified as rural? :-)), etc.  Does anyone else feel beaten up when the governor talks about “… you just throw money at it?”  What exactly does that mean and/or insinuate?  My reaction – I’m being accused of frivolous spending … who the heck has time or resources available for anything frivolous in schools?  The notion of any low-hanging fruit left to pluck from the financial trees is absurd.  My goodness … have these politicians spent any time in real schools, with real teachers, and with real students?  I also find it interesting the governor’s primary education advisor was a former journalist who happened to travel to Finland and write a series of articles on what Finland is doing in education … to my knowledge she has no experience in the trenches of schools.  That isn’t necessarily a completely bad thing because the world needs dreamers and idealists for change and good things to happen – but also could be classified as someone in the ivory towers casting his/her “wisdom” with absolutely no clue about the real world.

I also find it troubling when the governor says things like this in the article – When asked if school districts should cut teachers, Branstad responded by saying they could keep staff “if they plan and use their resources wisely.”  Hmmm … we try to use our resources wisely all the time but I guess we just have to try harder now that the governor has explained this …   Finally, I guess based on the governor’s next statement, we really need to model our schools after state government …“We in state government have cut the number of employees by 1,500 and are using our resources in a more efficient manner,” he said. “Schools are the biggest recipient of the state budget. … They get over $3 billion.”  I apologize for the sarcasm – but really?

What exactly is the governor’s agenda?  I hope I’m wrong … and again this is just my opinion … but I think the governor has two goals for education:  1) create a voucher system (I believe the current term is education spending account) where a parent gets money from the state for schooling and allows them to use it wherever they want – including private and parochial schools, and 2) breaking the ISEA (teachers’ association).  My perspective is both goals are wrong for someone leading PUBLIC education.  As shared previously, I think private and parochial schools offer a great option for families – but state and local tax money should not be used in support of these schools – it should be an option available for families at their cost.  I also am offended by wanting to break the ISEA – the message is teachers are overpaid already and underworked – or at least that’s my take on what is being insinuated.  Do these people understand every ounce of research supports teachers being the most important cog in student performance and learning?  Are all teachers “good” – of course not but that also why we invest in professional development in helping folks to improve. Because some may not be exemplary we choose to chastise all teachers – that is just wrong.  My question back would be – Are all politicians good?  I’ll leave that answer to you …

You can certainly agree or disagree with my opinions – that’s the beauty of a democracy.  However to have a governor with this agenda using terms like “world-class education” seems to be a disconnect from his actions – and frankly that is more than a little troubling. Again, this is just my opinion … but IF I AM RIGHT, using our current students’ education in the current system as political footballs to accomplish an agenda is just plain wrong.

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Branstad: Throwing money at schools won’t improve them

Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday again defended his line-item veto of $55.7 million for Iowa schools, saying a budget where “you throw money” at schools won’t necessarily improve them.

Branstad instead argued that strategic investment is the way to make Iowa’s education system better, and he pointed to reform efforts that are underway, including a $100 million teacher coaching initiative that aims to improve the quality of classroom instruction.

His comments during his weekly news conference come amid outrage from educators over his decision to veto the one-time, earmarked money after a hard-won compromise in the Statehouse.

But they also give insight into Branstad’s reasoning, beyond his previous comments that one-time money is “bad budgeting.”

“I think you have to look at the whole picture,” Branstad told reporters Monday. “It’s not like the old days — you just throw money at it. And that didn’t get us the results we wanted.

“Now we’re trying to specifically target our resources on things that we feel confident will prepare our students for the quality jobs that we’re creating in this state in the 21st century.”

Jimmy Centers, the governor’s spokesman, said the state’s fiscal health, and providing stable, long-term funding, were the governor’s top budget priorities this year.

And he reiterated the administration’s commitment to “world-class” education, which “is demonstrated by significant, targeted growth in funding for initiatives to raise achievement.”

Branstad said those strategies include a greater focus on early reading — before the critical third-grade year — and STEM, which is science, technology, engineering and math.

And he pointed to the Teacher Leadership Compensation program, a hallmark of the 2013 education reform package. After a three-year rollout of $50 million, the state has pledged ongoing funding of $150 million to pay for full-time, part-time and supplemental teacher coaches in schools.

However, some school leaders have said the 1.25 percent increase approved this session will prompt cuts to programs or personnel. They’ve said at least 3 percent is needed to “break even” because of inflationary costs to heating and electricity, plus employee raises.

And despite the one-time money being earmarked for certain expenses, such as textbooks or transportation, school officials could have used it to free up general fund dollars for other expenses.

When asked if school districts should cut teachers, Branstad responded by saying they could keep staff “if they plan and use their resources wisely.”

But he also referenced belt-tightening at other public agencies, and the need to make government more efficient.

“We in state government have cut the number of employees by 1,500 and are using our resources in a more efficient manner,” he said. “Schools are the biggest recipient of the state budget. … They get over $3 billion.”

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