No matter what happens next in the Iowa legislature, we should thank lawmakers in Des Moines for achieving something that eluded Davenport leaders for years: galvanized support for Davenport schools.
We’re seeing students, parents, teachers, Democrats, Republicans, union lovers and union haters aligning against the legislature’s intransigence.
School board members, city leaders and others have complained for years about legislative lip service that touts Iowa education, but fails to fully fund it. Each year, lawmakers ignore statutory deadlines for making funding decisions, leaving local school boards scrambling. Local boards are forced to make cuts and issue layoff notices to meet their legal deadlines, then rescind some of them when lawmakers finally get around to holding up their end of the deal.
In the past, local officials danced gingerly around the lawmakers’ obvious hypocrisy, expressing concern, but holding back for fear they would offend the legislators who hold the purse strings.
Then came Art Tate.
The 73 year-old, retired Army colonel staked his sterling reputation on calling out lawmakers and promising – not threatening -- to live up to the consequences of his candor. Tate said he’s prepared to tap his district’s reserve funds without state approval if lawmakers delay decisions and underfund schools.
We can’t wait to see which state agency will go after Tate while lawmakers continue to ignore their own statutory funding deadlines.
In Des Moines, House Republican lawmakers say Iowa doesn’t have the money to provide more than 1.25 percent allowable growth to public schools. Yet we know lawmakers previously found money to grant tax cuts to commercial property owners, apartment landlords and others. We know they found bipartisan support to hike gas taxes 47 percent.
But when it comes to basic – not lavish – funding for schools, House Republicans insist on holding a line.
They can continue to hold their arbitrary line and elevate Tate from a beloved local superintendent to a national icon for public education in Iowa. If asked to choose between this decorated Army veteran, or gas tax-hiking legislators, whom would you choose?
Thousands of Davenporters – Republicans and Democrats -- are marching with Tate. That includes us.
Iowa legislators eager to continue diminishing Iowa public education, be forewarned. Tate’s gambit has energized an army of letter-writing, legislator-calling soldiers with memories that will last long past the caucuses and into the 2016 state legislative elections.