Letter to the editor: Are we shortchanging Iowa’s schools again?

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To the editor:

Despite a growing economy, our legislature has failed to approve adequate funding for our schools for six years running. The result? Program cuts, teacher layoffs and overcrowded classrooms.


Thanks to the 2013 corporate tax cuts, we are now facing a deficit, and legislators are proposing that underfunding our schools is the solution to the budget problem they created.

The current education funding proposal is a 1.1 percent increase over last year, only half the rate of inflation. A survey of Iowa school superintendents showed that 70 percent of districts need 4 percent to break even this year, partially due to the snowball effect of past underfunding.

Even Governor Branstad recommended more than the 1.1 percent being proposed. This 1.1 percent means more layoffs for teachers, more program cuts and even more overcrowding, especially in a growing district like ours.

Here is what overcrowded classrooms mean for my family: My husband is a high school English teacher with 22 years of experience in the classroom. He was born to teach. It is his calling and his passion. He is an innovative master teacher who is always working to improve his courses.

Every year, former students write to him from college, even Ivy League schools, to say their professors are impressed with how well read and well prepared they are. He is particularly gifted at reaching students who are on the margins, who come from difficult backgrounds and are considered at risk.

As his class sizes have grown over the years, and particularly this year, I’ve begun to see the light in his eyes dim. The hours grading papers for as many as 35 students per class, 160 or more students in all, are long for an English teacher.

Other teachers at his school have as many as 45 students in a class. He and his colleagues are tired and stressed. The workload is affecting my husband’s health and our family life, and ultimately, it will affect the quality of education his students will receive.

If we all had a crystal ball here today, this is what we would see if underfunding continues: Students will receive fewer, shorter and less challenging assignments. They will receive less individual attention and less feedback on their work. Instruction will be less tailored to their strengths, weaknesses and interests.

Teachers will no longer sponsor extracurriculars, by which many students learn leadership skills and find their calling. Teachers won’t be willing to add that coaching role, chair their department or mentor student teachers. Cutting back will be necessary for them to stay afloat as they are given responsibility for more and more students. Workloads of 60- to 70 hours a week are simply not sustainable.

And of course many teachers will quit. Last year, my son’s third grade teacher went home for the holidays and never came back. I’m sure her overcrowded classroom was one of the reasons she left.

Iowans, please contact your legislators and ask them to think very carefully about how the funding choices they make this year will affect teachers and students. Ask them to please give our schools the funding they need and that our children deserve.

Karen Nichols
Iowa City

1 COMMENT

  1. Very well written, and absolutely correct! My son Tim is in the Des Moines school system, and we are certainly well aware of the difficulties!

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