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February 26th, 2011

McKinley: When is zero not really zero?

By Sen. Paul McKinley

When is zero not really zero?

The answer is found in the debate over allowable growth for our public schools across Iowa.

A few weeks ago, the Republican controlled Iowa House overwhelmingly passed a zero percent allowable growth. Late last week, the Democratic controlled Iowa Senate passed a two percent allowable growth.

On its surface, zero may sound like our local schools are receiving a freeze in their amount of resources.

But in fact, that actually could not be further from the truth.

Zero percent allowable growth will actually provide Iowa’s schools with approximately $286 million in additional dollars as compared to the amount they are receiving this year.

For too long, legislative Democrats have allowed huge surges in allowable growth and then failed to fund them – leaving our local districts and especially the property taxpayers to shoulder the added load.

It is clear to most that over promising and under delivering is not the message Iowa voters delivered to their elected leaders last November.

But if you listened to the debate last week on the Iowa Senate floor, all Iowans heard from the Senate Democrats about was the need for even more money.

Fundamentally, I believe the education debate needs to be become about more than just dollars and cents.

I believe it is time to start talking about student achievement; academic success and ensuring our students have the skills and knowledge to compete in this global economy.

Just last week, The Wall Street Journal published a story called “The Ten States Running out of Smart People.” Unfortunately, Iowa made the list.

Here’s what they said about Iowa:

“Reading scores among Iowa’s 8th graders underwent the third greatest decrease in the nation between 2003 and 2009, based on numbers released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  With regards to math scores, the state ranks 49th out of all 50 states.  Math scores have not fallen in this time period, but they have essentially stalled while other states experienced substantial increases.”

If more money were the answer, our students would be performing far above all others.

Since 2001, Iowa has increased our spending per pupil by over 50 percent!  Approximately 60 percent of our state budget is dedicated to education spending.

We have spent literally billions of dollars year after year after year only to see our proud heritage in education continue to be eroded.

So where do we go from here?

We need to take four big steps:

First and foremost, we need to properly re-establish the definition of education. Iowa has a proud educational heritage because we have already made it about preparing our students to achieve success and be productive citizens. We believe education should be about achievement and teaching our children the necessary skills they need to successfully compete in the global marketplace.

On one hand, parents, employers and community leaders agree the purpose of education is to develop and prepare students to be productive citizens and possess the skills and knowledge to compete in the global marketplace. On the other hand, the elite educational establishment fosters the notion the purpose of education is to promote equality, diversity, social justice and self-esteem. Sadly, educating our children is no longer necessarily an academic endeavor – it often seems more of a social experiment. Education must be about academics and teaching our students the skills they need to succeed.

Secondly, we must concentrate on the fundamentals again. We do not believe we need to re-invent the wheel. Oftentimes we are just moving our students through our system before they have learned the fundamentals of reading, writing, math and science while our establishment elite instead chases after fads and gimmicks derived from a wayward social agenda

Third, we believe our students will respond to heightened expectations if we challenge them. There are many examples where children in Asian countries or in India are learning calculus in junior high while students in Iowa may not learn it until high school and college – or worse yet – never at all. We are experiencing an international achievement gap and we must aspire to take the steps necessary to close it.

Lastly, we believe we need more accountability and transparency. Everyone must be accountable for the success of our students. Though these children may be students today, we will be relying on them to be the leaders of tomorrow. Students, parents, schools, colleges of education and policymakers all need to be held accountable. We need to pay our good teachers well and weed out those who are not meeting the necessary standards.

As we move forward as a state, we must challenge ourselves to never allow the level of spending on education to be the sole yard stick that measures our success.

We firmly believe that Iowa has a wonderful educational heritage. When we get back to the basics, we will again be able to put our students first by preparing them to be productive citizens who possess the necessary skills and knowledge to compete anywhere and with anyone else in the world.

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The Iowa Republican

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