Voters are used to seeing political TV ads that stretch the truth around election season, but State Representative Chris Hagenow’s recent commercial on education funding could win an award for dishonesty.
In an ad that shows his children getting ready for school, Hagenow’s family touts the legislator’s supposed support for public schools. One of his daughters says that it “seems like politicians didn’t care about us or our schools,” but that Hagenow actually made “our schools stronger.” His wife says that Hagenow passed $200 million for schools while balancing the budget.
“That means new teachers and new books,” his daughter says as she walks out of their house, adding that he also supported extra preschool funding so that “kids get a head start.”
The ad finishes with Hagenow in the driver’s seat of the car, taking his family off to somewhere.
All of this sounds very nice, but it would come as quite the surprise to anyone who has followed Hagenow’s actual votes and actions at the Statehouse over the past several years.
The claim on preschool funding is particularly deceiving. Yes, the legislature has appropriated funds in recent years to Iowa’s successful voluntary preschool program. But that was only after Hagenow himself tried to defund the entire program back in 2011.
When Republicans took control of the Iowa House after the 2010 midterm elections, one of the first things on their budgetary chopping block was the state’s preschool system that served 20,000 children at the time. “Eliminate voluntary preschool” was at the top of House File 45‘s impacts, which Hagenow voted for. Republicans looked to replace the preschool program with a voucher system that would have only provided assistance to low-income families, but the real impact likely would’ve meant that most preschool programs in middle-class districts – like the one Hagenow represents – shut down.
The entire ordeal was one of the biggest fights during the 2011 legislative session, during which Hagenow was on the side of ending funding for preschool. So for him to take credit for supporting Iowa’s preschool program with an ad that claims “additional preschool funding” is deceptive, to say the least.
Had Hagenow been successful, the preschool programs offered at West Des Moines schools like Crestview, Clive, Fairmeadows, Jordan Creek, Western Hills, and Westridge Elementary Schools likely would not be operating today. About 400 children are enrolled in those programs.
The other number tossed out in his ad, $200 million in funding for schools, may sound like a lot, but Iowa’s schools have actually been consistently underfunded for the past six years. Each year Republican lawmakers have delayed appropriating public school funds, despite a state law that says it must be done over a year in advance. And they’ve underfunded schools every year, allocating only small increases of 1.25% in 2015 and 2.25% in 2016. In 2012 they just flat-out gave a 0% increase. Hagenow’s ad claims the new funding means “more teachers and more books,” but school districts around the state have had to lay off staff and cut back on programs.
The West Des Moines public schools had to cut $560,000 out of their budget this year due to lacking state funding. What was one of the programs they had to cut from that? Subsidized preschool access to 3-year-olds. $120,000 was axed from their preschool budget.
It’s actually not even clear what Hagenow is referring to when his ad mentions an additional $200 million for schools. Hagenow did sponsor a bill relating to $200 million in education funds: it was to divert that much money from Iowa’s public schools to homeschoolers and private schools.
And it’s not like Hagenow played a small role in any of this, or that his votes on these measures were part of some vastly larger spending bill only tangentially related to the topic. He’s the Republican House Majority Leader, the second-most powerful member of the Iowa House. His actions have been instrumental in keeping Iowa public school funding so low in recent years.
If Chris Hagenow wanted to make the case that Iowa has to cut costs in some areas, including public schools, he could make that argument. If he wanted to publicly explain why he thinks private school options are deserving of public funds, he could do that. Instead, he’s running an intentionally deceptive ad campaign, claiming to support the very things he tried to end. If voters like any of the school programs alluded to in his ads, then Chris Hagenow should be the last person they’re voting for.
by Pat Rynard