Claire Celsi speaking at Teachers March, Feb 5, 2017

After the 2016 election, I was determined to get up and keep fighting for what I believe is right. There are so many issues that I care about that were now under immediate threat. I knew that since the GOP controlled the Governorship, as well as the Iowa House and Senate – there would be many laws in peril.

I received some very good advice from a dear friend – “pick one or two issues and stick with those. You’ll spread yourself too thin if you try to do everything.” That turned out to be very wise counsel.

I started asking around about grassroots education groups. A couple of people told me to talk to Karen Nichols in Iowa City, who’d just started a Facebook page called “Iowans for Public Education.” Another couple of people recommended that I talk to Randy Richardson in Des Moines. We quickly realized that we were the movement. We were the people that had to do something. There were already plenty of professional groups representing school boards, school districts and teachers – but really none that were citizen-led. Iowans for Public Education became a movement in January, 2017.

Collective bargaining was immediately on the chopping block in the 2017 Legislative session. Iowans for Public Education’s Facebook group already had thousands of members so we reached out to them and asked, “If we held a rally at the Iowa Statehouse, would you attend?”

Teachers March, February 5, 2017

The answer was a resounding YES! More than 5,000 teachers, students, school board members, legislators and public workers showed up that bright, sunny February day. We gathered, listened to speeches from Kelly McMahon, a Cedar Rapids teacher and ISEA member who told the crowd about what it was like to be a teacher in Wisconsin when public workers were stripped of their union rights. Legislators, union leaders, school board members and thousands of Iowans came to express their support for Iowa’s public employees, especially teachers.

We urged Iowans to flood their legislators with messages in support of keeping the collective bargaining bill in place. We called, we emailed and we visited the capitol, watching the debate. Despite heroic efforts by our group and dozens of labor unions, including ISEA, the Republicans recklessly gutted Chapter 20 (collective bargaining) – leaving many teachers without contracts that protect their rights and help them obtain better pay, retirement benefits and working conditions.

After that, we braced for a voucher bill that was introduced in 2017 but was never seriously considered. Many other harmful pieces of legislation passed in 2017 and schools were underfunded once again for the seventh year out of the last eight years.

Iowans for Public Education, affectionately known as (I4PE) worked through the summer to post information about public education and continued to organically grow our membership. As of February, we have around 15,000 members in our discussion group and public pages.

At the beginning of the session this year, we’d received credible information that Republicans were planning to introduce a voucher bill that if enacted, would gut public education by siphoning per pupil funding into vouchers that could be used in private schools. State Representative Walt Rogers introduced his voucher bill and we defeated it by asking our member to contact their legislators.