Soon after the final votes of the Iowa legislative session were taken late last week, many legislators from both Parties took to multiple media platforms trumpeting the â€œhistoricâ€ and â€œsweepingâ€ positive reforms they had just passed.Â I would love to fully concurâ€”and if I happened to be a Democrat I certainly wouldâ€”but as a Conservative Republican I am less than impressed with some of these â€œachievementsâ€.
Of the three major compromises reached I believe, at the most, Conservatives should be â€œsomewhat satisfiedâ€ by the understandable terms reached on tax reform and health insurance coverage.Â However, I am deeply disappointed by what has passed as â€œreformâ€ in Iowaâ€™s K-12 education system.Â The following will focus on education reform and later in the week we will deal with the tax and health insurance issues.
Making Appropriate Distinctions
In general I believe House and Senate Republicans grossly misread and under-valued the strength of their handâ€”particularly in dealing with education reform.Â In all fairness, the tax reform and health insurance issues had different dynamics surrounding them and this criticism applies less in these areas.
The reason for the differing standard in my mind on the tax and health insurance issues was that in these two areas inaction would have resulted in direct negative consequences for Iowansâ€”higher taxes and un-insured citizens.Â However, when it came specifically to public education reform the status-quo would not have concretely damaged anyoneâ€”a point made more painful by the likelihood the reforms that were passed will have no positive impact.
Just to be clear, I am making a key distinction between the public education reforms and the home schooling reforms contained in the bill.Â I strongly support any action that makes it easier for homeschoolers to operate and expandâ€”and I do not necessarily begrudge them for supporting this reform as a means to achieve it.Â The real tragedy here is the sad construct in which this group has to â€œbuyâ€ these reforms by supporting increased money for an ever-expanding and shamefully ineffective education leviathan.Â The truth is the vast majority of home schooling families pay taxes to support a system which they often-wisely opt out ofâ€”and then ironically proceed to outperform while simultaneously funding.
Public Education Reform
The best way to go about exposing this bill as the completely ineffective piece of legislation I believe it to be is by asking 6 simple questions.Â Since we as taxpayers will be spending an additional $160 million dollars a year, answering these questions shouldnâ€™t be too much to askâ€”unfortunately I have a strong suspicion that even those who voted for it canâ€™t provide many answers.
1.Â How and when will we know this reform has worked?
By this I mean what specific metric or metrics can be looked at to prove this reform has or hasnâ€™t worked?Â Additionally what date on the calendar will we be able to make this assessment?Â At a minimum Republicans should of asked these questions and demandedÂ the answers be written into the bill.Â Surely this isnâ€™t too much to ask for.
2. Why didnâ€™t the 35.4% increase in K-12 education spending (an additional $650 million) that we have had since 2002 produce any positive results?
A seemingly common-sense question to ask I would say.Â It would be one thing if this reform came on the heels of us having starved the system of money for decadesâ€”but this simply isnâ€™t the case.Â What specifically did this massive increase (including 4% allowable growth every year under Gov. Culver) in spending since 2002 go to?Â Was it supposed to raise test scores?â€”I hope not because if so it clearly didnâ€™t.
3. Are we to honestly believe that every member of the Iowa House (91-0) and 80% of the Iowa Senate (40-10) looked at this legislation and all independently concluded it would deliver fantastic results?Â And further that these results would justify spending an additional $160 million a year?
I fully understand the concept of compromising, and that doing so will deliver a more bi-partisan roll callâ€”but letâ€™s be serious here.Â Anytime Ako Abdul-Samad and Tom Shaw are voting together on a major reform that spends hundreds of millions of dollars and affects every child in Iowa we have to be skeptical.Â Unless Iâ€™m missing something I see only two possible reasons for thisâ€”and neither are good.Â One is that many out of town members just wanted to go home (which I doubt), and two is that so many random offerings were made by both sides it was just palpable enough for each caucus to vote for (which I believe).Â If so, this approach will never result in a meaningful, affordable, and wise solution.
4. Why does it continue to be acceptable not to evaluate teachers, at least in part, by the actual results they achieve in a classroom over the course of a school year?Â And what kind of people refuse to stop the practice of passing 3rd graders on to the next grade when they canâ€™t even read?Â And whose interest are they honestly serving in doing so?
The answers in order are: the teachers union, disgraceful ones, and their own.Â This is where true education reform lies and the fact Republicans can only get a â€œstudy councilâ€ on teacher evaluation is absurdâ€”too mad to expound on any further.
5. How were teachers able to have such high-performance in the late 1980â€™s and mid-90â€™s and not in the 2000â€™s and beyond?
In the early 90â€™s Iowa led the nation in reading and math scoresâ€”but those days are long gone.Â Today we face disturbing realities like this oneâ€”only 3 other states in the nation (2 of which are in the Deep South) have less 8th graders enrolled in some form of advanced math by grade 8.Â Furthermore, the performance of minority students in math at this level is alarmingly low and trials other students by up to 30%.
During this debate we have heard a lot about starting teacher pay in Iowa.Â While this is an important number, lost in shuffle is the fact that the average teacher salary in Iowa has increased from $36,480 in 2001 to $49,622 in 2010.Â The teachers union will say this steep increase was due to the fact Iowa teachers were among the lowest paid in the late 90â€™s-early 2000â€™s and this in part is true.Â But then I ask: if they were among the lowest paid and salary equates to performanceâ€”how could they possibly have had Iowa kids achieving at such a high level?Â Also, the fact remains they saw a large increase in pay and responded with flat-lining and worsening performance.Â By the way, if the teacher’s union is ready to start blaming the kids or their parents for worsening test scores Iâ€™m ready to listen.
6. Why does â€œreformâ€ always mean spending more money?Â Why canâ€™t it ever be spending the same amount of money but in a smarter wayâ€”or even (gasp) spending less?
Maybe someday we will try it…I bet it would be just as effective if not more so.
Though controlling only the Senate and not having the House or the Governorâ€™s officeâ€”Democrats got well over half of what they were after with this bill and have to be privately ecstatic.Â They managed to get additional money both for 1st year and veteran teachers, 4% allowable growth this year and next, and have again avoided being evaluated on their actual results.Â Republicans should and couldÂ have done much betterâ€”and if they couldnâ€™t they should have done nothing.
And the final insultâ€”I canâ€™t be the only one who sees the irony that we apparently have to create â€œcareer pathwaysâ€ with increased pay for our not-so-good teachers to be taught by other teachers how to teach betterâ€¦and this is after the not-so-good teacher already graduated from a college that apparently did a not-so-good job teaching them how to teach in the first place.Â A sign of the times I guess…
The Des Moines Register’s editorial this morning provided a concise (for Democrats) explanation about why Iowans should not get their $800 million over-payment returned to them. Â It’s to be expected that now that there is extra revenue coming in, we see the Left drooling over the opportunity to spend our money.
It’s a wonder we managed to survive the past few years with so little money to spend.
But seriously, we did just fine. Â And that should be the point now. Â We’ve managed to do a great job of assessing where the government is spending money it doesn’t need to be spending, and cut some of it back (there’s more to cut, but we’ll leave that for another time). But even though we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and a surplus in the Treasury, doesn’t mean it’s okay for the state government to keep the extra money from Iowans from last year.
We don’t operate our state from savings, we operate it from revenue. Â Well, except for when we borrow, but let’s not quibble over that today.
The Register puts a number of items up for spending that are long-term expenses… they aren’t a leaky roof, as they try to relate it, but they are the lawn, the car upkeep, the utility bills. Â They may even be things we should do and pay for, but if we are going to expand our expenses (which should be questioned regardless), the money for those things should come from current revenue, not savings. Â Otherwise, we are making the same mistake we’ve made time and again in the past by paying for ongoing expenses with one-time resources. Â It’s a foolish mistake. Â It’s like taking your year-end bonus and paying the light bill and getting an oil change. Â If your budget doesn’t allow you to pay for those things from your existing income, you are not in good financial shape to begin with.
If the I-JOBS program of Culver’s last 2 years in office had waited until this money was available, I could accept the idea of spending it on that kind of a project. Â But alas, we were far too impatient and had to instead saddle our next generation with keeping the gambling enterprises alive in order to pay for this program.
And the Register can’t help but show how they have bought into the ridiculous notion that government jobs bring value. Â The only kind of jobs that bring value to the economy are those that contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)… that is, jobs that actually generate income by creating products or services that people want to buy. Â Government jobs don’t do that, and instead are a drain on GDP.
We don’t really have a pressing one-time financial need in Iowa, aside perhaps for some infrastructure such as bridges and roads, that the state government needs to attend to, although I’m sure some think otherwise. Â There may be plenty of recurring expense needs that need attention (either to add or drop), but using this surplus to cover the lack of revenue for these items is foolish.
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I take a bit of exception to the idea that HF1 provide the people’s money back to them as a tax credit for 2013 taxes. Â I realize that the printing and mailing of checks is an expense, but the money needs to get to Iowans now, not a year from now. Â We’ve done it before, we can do it again. Â Mail out the checks.
Obviously, lawmakers want to keep the interest on that money, eh?
Just to give you an update on whatâ€™s been going on with the fallout after Fridayâ€™s Iowa Supreme Court decision to strike down the Iowa Defense of Marriage Act.
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) says he will not allow debate on the matter.
Gronstal, who lauded the Supreme Court decision handed down Friday overturning the stateâ€™s ban on same-sex marriage, was asked by Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, if he would join with Republicans in crafting a bill to move an amendment forward.
â€œEleven years ago, you voted in favor of protecting marriage as between one man and one woman,â€ McKinley said. â€œWill you pledge to work with me and craft a leadership bill on this important issue and bring it to the floor a vote by this body?â€
In response, Gronstal shared a story about his daughter, Kate, telling a group of conservative men that opponents of same-sex marriage â€œhave already lostâ€ and that the younger generation doesnâ€™t care.
â€œI learned something from my daughter that day. Thatâ€™s what I see, Sen. McKinley,â€ Gronstal said. â€œI see a bunch of people that merely want to profess their love for each other and want state law to recognize that. Is that so wrong? I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s so wrong.â€
Senator Gronstal voted in favor of the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act before. No one is saying that it is wrong for homosexuals to want a state law to recognize their relationship. It has nothing to do with their desire, though, it has to do with the will of the people and the democratic process.
Now Governor Chet Culver is getting squishy on the subject after saying he would remain open to a constitutional amendment process should this ruling occur the way it did.
â€œAs I have stated before, I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,â€ Culver said in the statement. â€œThis is a tenet of my personal faith. The Iowa Supreme Courtâ€™s decision has, in fact, reaffirmed that churches across Iowa will continue to have the right to recognize the sanctity of religious marriage in accordance with their own tranditions (sic) and church doctrines.â€
Adding that the decision does not require churches recognize or officiate over same-sex marriages, Culver said that he, as governor, must respect the authority of the Iowa Supreme Court and uphold the Iowa Constitution.
What about the judicial branch respecting the legislative branch? Also isnâ€™t the amendment process available to us to address what is deemed a constitutional problem? Heâ€™s trying to deflect and doing a poor job of it. It may not matter however due to 1964 constitutional amendment that requires voters to be asked every 10 years if they wish to convene a constitutional convention. It will be on the ballot in 2010.
Also, Ramesh Ponnuru nails what the problem is with this ruling.
In a democratic system such as ours, it can be perfectly appropriate for courts to set aside laws. Constitutions reflect the permanent will of the people, which trumps the temporary will of the people as expressed in ordinary statutes (if a court is forced to choose between these sources of law to decide a case).
But nobody can plausibly claim that Iowans meant to ratify same-sex marriage when they approved a constitution including equal-protection language. Nor can anyone plausibly claim that Iowans meant to authorize judges to decide such matters as marriage policy when they approved that language.
The courtâ€™s ruling thus has no democratic or constitutional legitimacy. Whether or not same-sex marriage is a good idea, the decision by Iowaâ€™s court to impose it on the state is an outrage.
Major hat-tip to Jeff Angelo, and he brings up some other good points as well.
I shared some thoughts on Sunday regarding this ruling to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to remember God is in control regardless of what happens. Also that we need to do a better job reaching out to the homosexual community and make sure that we are respectful and loving in our speech. I also said that addressing this politically is appropriate, and I donâ€™t want those comments to be interpreted as saying not to be involved.
To that end Iâ€™d like to share some timely news. I spent some time after work sending emails to all of the Representatives and Senators. I received an email back from Representative Renee Schulte (R-Cedar Rapids) who encouraged me to email the committee members holding the bill up:
I encourage all Iowans who oppose this ruling to contact these Representatives and soon, please be sure to do so in a respectful manner. There is a great sample letter that you can use as a guide.
Cross-posted from Caffeinated Thoughts.
Statement on Governor Culverâ€™s Failure
to Keep Promise to Protect Traditional Marriage
Sen. McKinley: â€œ I believe Iowans should have the final vote on this very important and emotional issue. Governor Culver has chosen to stand with 7 elite justices and deny the 3 million people of Iowa the right to vote on this significant issue.â€
DES MOINES, IA â€“ Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) issued the following statement today in response to Governor Culverâ€™s failure to keep his promise to protect traditional marriage in Iowa:
â€œGovernor Culver has failed to keep the promise he made just last year on January 18 after a filming of Iowa Public Televisionâ€™s â€œIowa Pressâ€ to â€˜do whatever it takes to protect marriage as between one man and one womanâ€™. He has failed to lead in creating a responsible budget during the last two years, he has failed to keep spending under control and he has failed to push legislation that will help get over 80,000 Iowans back to work and now he has failed to keep his promise to â€˜do whatever it takes to protect marriage as between one man and one woman.â€™ I believe Iowans should have the final vote on this very important and emotional issue. Governor Culver has chosen to stand with 7 elite justices and deny the 3 million people of Iowa the right to vote on this significant issue. This marriage flip-flop is just the latest example of Governor Culver not providing the leadership that every Iowan deserves.â€
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Granted, it’s no surprise to have any politician make a promise that they can’t keep.Â This particular promise is dreadfully important to most Iowans and for Culver to make this kind of promise and not do everything he can to hold up his responsibility is embarrassing.
This isn’t over.