Guest post from Josh Hughes, Iowa’s youngest school board member
It has been a rough, rough few weeks for public education both in Iowa and nationwide. Last Monday, Iowa House and Senate Republicans underfunded Iowa schools with a meager 1.1% increase in public education allocations, the third-lowest amount since 1973. Then on Tuesday the United States Senate voted to confirm Betsy DeVos, a woman whose only notable contribution to the world of education has primarily been monetary gifts to the Republican Party.
Finally, this week Republicans at the Iowa Capitol, after ignoring thousands of calls and emails in opposition to the bill they crafted behind closed doors with out-of-state interests, passed concurrent bills that rip away hard fought rights for union members. The GOP majorities voted to cut off debate on what is easily the most consequential piece of legislation to come before the Iowa General Assembly in decades, without giving adequate time to consider all the amendments. I won’t get in into the specifics of the bill, but suffice it to say the consequences for schools and public sector employees of all kinds, will be catastrophic.
I’ve had the opportunity to witness much of the debate in both the Iowa House and Senate over the past few weeks. As a school board member from a rural district that routinely gives more than 60% of its votes to Republican candidates, I am incredulous that Republicans from rural areas fail to understand the massive wounds they have inflicted on their own communities. Rural communities like mine are driven by public education. And yet Republican members of the General Assembly have turned their backs on the very people that elected them, and that’s unforgivable.
I’m pretty pissed off. But that is not enough—blind, seething rage is not going to help teachers keep their healthcare. Rallying, tweeting, and angry Facebook posts aren’t going to ensure that districts throughout Iowa can attract and retain the high quality teachers that make our state great. We need to be more than angry. We need to be running for office, specifically, school board and city council. I know, because I’ve been here before.
In 2015, when Governor Terry Branstad went back on campaign promises of supporting public education and vetoed over $50 million in education funding, I was apoplectic. I fumed, wrote letters to the editor, and went off on Twitter. But that didn’t change anything—until just two weeks after that I found out that there were school elections in odd numbered years, and that there would be a vacancy on my school board. I made the choice to run, beat four much older, much more established community members on a platform of a stronger commitment to public education and our teachers.
I ran as an 18-year-old, barely able to vote, with a High School diploma with the ink still wet. If I can do that, anyone can. If you really care about protecting bargaining rights for our teachers, run for school board, and get in the room to make sure teachers get a fair shake. Concerned that the Secretary of Education doesn’t seem to know the difference between proficiency and growth? Get on your school board and ensure you’re helping every student you can. School boards too often lack unique perspectives or fresh voices. If you want to make a tangible difference for the future of Iowa, run for school board, and I’ll help you (you can email me here).
by Josh Hughes