Pilot Special Edition Editorial

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

State falling short on education

I pity the Iowa teacher. My entire heart goes out to the underappreciated, underpaid servants of the community. Even more so, I pity Iowa's youth.

Teachers and students are inextricably linked together and what happens to one ultimately happens to the other. Unfortunately, I feel our state government is doing little to ensure the future well-being of education in Iowa.

State legislators have been faced with the unenviable task of cutting the budget to keep it in line with available money. In its zeal to eliminate unimportant programs, leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature have pronounced a proposal that will save the state nearly $11.3 million.

Of the proposed cuts, over half of the $11.3 million will affect K-12 education. The largest of the cuts, the K-12 Technology Fund, is set to be eliminated, which will free up $5.7 million. In addition, axing the School to Work Program will unbind about $400k.

But these are just the proposed cuts to the inflated budget. Prior to these proposals, the 2003 proposed budget cut the K-12 Technology Fund from $10 million to $5.7 million. But legislators needn't worry about reducing the Technology Fund if they cut the whole thing all together. Also, the Phase III/Staff Development was shaved from $21 million to $9 million.

Add it all up, Iowa's educational programs are losing roughly $22.5 million.

Is there anything more important than educating Iowa's youth? Apparently, nearly everything has a higher priority than education.

The purpose of the Technology Fund was to provide computers for classrooms, along with staff training and software. Republicans contest that the Technology Fund was never intended to be a permanent program.

That seems to be a rather convenient response. That would be like Bud Selig saying to the entire state of Minnesota, "Sorry everybody, but Major League Baseball never intended the Twins to be a permanent team. We're a little short on cash so the Twins gotta go."

If the state refuses to assist schools in their trek towards technological equivalence with the rest of the nation, who is supposed to foot the bill? I don't think individual school districts can make enough cuts to replenish the exhausted Technology Fund. Maybe schools should stop serving caviar and lobster thermador at lunch ...

But I doubt teachers are too surprised when hearing about proposed cuts. Schools and teachers have always been hampered by a lack of supplies and a meager pay.

Many hoped that last year's Teacher Compensation Law would finally reward teachers with a substantial increase. Unfortunately, the bill fell from far the mark. It was aimed at increasing base pay for only beginning teachers and all other teachers' salaries were to be slightly raised based on student performance. A flat increase for teacher pay was rejected in the House last May.

Why not give Iowa teachers a raise in their base pay?

Iowa students' scores are annually near the top of the country, yet Iowa ranks 35 in teacher pay. Why?

Even more befuddling is that the proposed teacher pay raise was performance based. Again, why? Isn't obvious that teachers in Iowa are performing their duties as good or better than nearly every other states' teachers?

Another baseball analogy seems relevant. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs last year and his contract was up for renegotiation at the end of the season. The Giants ultimately gave Bonds nearly everything he asked for, but let's suppose for a moment that they would have proposed a performance-based contract. Imagine the Giants' organization said, "Barry, we know you're one of the best in the game and you did a great job hitting 73 home runs. But we don't really see any reason to give you any more money as part of your base salary. So what we were thinking was for you to get more money, next year you have to hit more than 73 home runs."

It's pretty simple to envision what Bonds would've done; he would have left for a team that appreciated him. That is the dilemma facing Iowa - teachers are leaving for states that treat them better.

Iowa districts are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new teachers, and the Iowa State Education Association reports that 40% of Iowa's current teaching force will be up for retirement within the next ten years. Meanwhile, only one-half of Iowa graduates stay in-state to teach. And of those who do, 17% leave after their first year and 28% are gone after their third year.

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners predicts that in five years, Iowa will need to hire twice as many teachers as we currently hire. If the numbers don't lie, Iowa is in a world of hurt.

Iowa's youth will be hurt most. They must face fewer teachers with, larger classrooms, insufficient materials, and little technological advancement. They are Iowa's future.

But state legislators cut educational programs to free up money and refuse to pay teachers what they deserve.

Education in Iowa is in a downward spiral. The state government can help, but they won't. And for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.