Apparently Senator David Johnson wasn’t finished sending questionable emails on education just yet. In other emails Starting Line obtained from readers and found posted online, Johnson makes clear he doesn’t mind the fallout his tone is causing, saying in one, “I sure hope all these emails are going viral too.” More importantly, however, in one reply he lays out his desire for an ambitious, all-encompassing school voucher/privatization plan that may explain Statehouse Republicans’ actions on education funding.
“True ed reform won’t happen until that $6,000 in state aid is stapled to every student’s backpack and spent at the discretion of the parent(s),” Johnson said in an email exchange with Ryan Paulson, a teacher and active Republican in the Waterloo schools. Johnson is a member of the Senate Education Committee, his party leadership having trusted him to take a role in forming education policy.
Paulson is a friend of Vaughn Gross, the fellow teacher whose original email to Johnson set off the controversy. Starting Line spoke with Paulson last night.
“Vaughn goes above and beyond – I’ve never seen a more dedicated teacher than him,” Paulson said of his colleague. “[Johnson] was just concerned with the $2,000 that it cost him for the extra session … I was upset about the teaching thing, but I was more upset about my longtime friend and colleague was treated like that by someone who’s supposed to represent all Iowans. Party lines go out the window, I didn’t like how he represented himself or his party.”
Paulson said that he catches some grief for being a teacher and a Republican, but that hasn’t kept him from feeling extremely frustrated with education funding debates in recent years. He understands where some Republicans have been coming from in their approach, but that ultimately the solutions are not helping Iowa students.
“Gov Branstad was very eloquent in how he put it – he has some legitimate points, saying he wants to have an entire budget dedicated to it, he doesn’t just want an one-time attribution of funds,” Paulson said of the veto rationale. “But if you took the time and came to a Waterloo classroom or an East Des Moines classroom or a Sioux City North classroom and actually walked through, spend a day, actually see what we’re trying to do with these kids, I don’t think there’s any way you would veto something like that or deny us those funds. Because we’re out there working hard on our own dime, on our own hour, and we don’t care about any of that, we just care about the kids, and we want the representatives to care about our kids too.”
Paulson was also concerned about Johnson’s talk of voucher programs. If fully implemented in the way Johnson suggested, it would dramatically alter the system of publicly funded education in Iowa. Some will wonder if Republicans’ underfunding of schools now is a setup to undermine the institution in order to pave the way for all-out privatization.
“He’s flawed in his thinking on that,” Paulson argued, though he said he still understands Johnson’s sentiment. “$6,000 stapled to that kid’s backpack, yeah he can choose whatever school he wants, but that money’s not going to him and his family for notebooks and clothes and backpacks and school supplies. It’s not even necessarily going to his teachers directly, it’s going to that school district to use as they see fit, just like the funds that come from the state.”
“I’m sorry, I grew up in the public school systems, I work in the public schools, I’m grateful for the public schools,” Paulson continued. “To imply that we’re not doing our jobs, that kids should go wherever, that’s insulting as well.”
“There’s a lot of frustrations in this state right now,” Paulson said of what he hears in his community. “Education should be something where we’re all on the same page. This is our future. Iowa is just a great, amazing state, it always has been, we’ve always been on the front edge, and you’re going to take that away if you don’t invest in our kids.”
Users of the major internet forum Reddit are also posting what they claim to be text from email replies that Johnson sent them as well. In one he apparently wrote that “Too many educators, administrators included, have been their own worst enemies in this debate,” and also told the person, “So please also spread this all over social media. I don’t play that game.”
In another posted response, he supposedly wrote that he looked forward to coming criticism of him in the Des Moines Register, and suggested, “You might think about firing a few Senate Democrats, you know, the ones who hijacked the process.”
To add a bit of my own commentary: It’s also notable that with Johnson’s continuing unchecked belligerence, Minority Leader Bill Dix has officially lost control of his caucus in the Senate. To have a member of your caucus wantonly inviting terrible press upon your party is simply insane. Add Dix’s impotence to House Speaker Kraig Paulsen’s inability to figure out what the Governor of his same party wants (or lies about it to Senate Democrats in negotiations), and it’s clear the Republican leadership in the Statehouse is completely unable to lead and deliver real results for Iowans. Iowa is facing nothing less than a complete abdication of responsibility from its elected Republican leadership, and a total lack of competence from those in charge of the state’s future.
It’s really no wonder that parents, students and teachers around the state are increasingly fed up with the lack of support for public education. It shouldn’t be a surprise to certain legislators that they’re getting so much push-back. What’s bizarre is the reaction from Republicans who won this session, who achieved everything they could, and yet still hold such hostility toward teachers and public schools. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t really get all they wanted. Because if David Johnson is to be believed, they apparently want nothing less than the complete dismantling of public education in Iowa.
by Pat Rynard