In 2016, Senator Claire Celsi became one of the co-founders of Iowans for Public Education, a public education group run by grassroots activists. The other founders, Karen Nichols and Randy Richardson, as well as Senator Celsi, provided Iowans a place to learn about what is happening with education legislation and effectively advocate for good public policy in the State Legislature. Previously, there were only education industry groups, no dedicated grassroots group for Iowans to share information.
We’ve had some devastating things happen to public education since the Republican trifecta took over. The first was in 2017 when Republicans severely curtailed collective bargaining – the ability for educators to have a say in what pay and benefits they can get on the job. Since then, salaries have been stagnant and educators have been working many more hours without proper compensation.
Every year since 2017, Republicans have tried their best to raid public coffers to privatize public education. In 2021, the Republican majority successfully passed a charter school bill which would take public money and give it to private charter schools that are not transparent to the public and don’t have to be operated by an Iowa organization.
In both 2021 and 2022, there was a full court press to adopt vouchers. This scheme would have skimmed millions of dollars from public school districts and funneled it into private schools. The bill specifically stated that the private schools receiving public money would NOT have to change anything they are doing to accommodate students with disabilities and would not have to admit all students.
I am so grateful to the thousands of Iowans who contacted their legislators to express their opposition to the voucher scheme. From professional groups like ISEA (Iowa State Education Association), IASB (Iowa Association of School Boards), Iowa Safe Schools, the ACLU, and many others – to educators, superintendents and parents – everyone banded together with the same message: “Public money is for public schools.”
Governor Reynolds stepped up her lobbying efforts this year when it was clear that her voucher bill was in trouble. She met in secret with community members, stoking fears that “public schools don’t represent our values.”
I’m sure the private school profiteers will be back next year, asking for public funding for schools that aren’t accountable to the public. I promise that I will never let my guard down. Public education is too important and I will fight to protect it.