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A special election in two days will fill the Iowa Senate District 30 seat open because of a resignation. The Republicans are framing this as a philosophical battle of socialism vs. capitalism. Don’t be fooled by this inane idea. This election is mostly about what the Republicans have done to public education in Iowa.

Part of the reason I came here 45 years ago was because Iowa was truly the Education State. Standardized test scores at the K–12 levels were among the top in the nation. Graduation rates were high in spite of demanding standards expected of students. The state literacy rate was near the highest in the country. The teachers were dedicated professionals determined to do the best for the young people.

At the college level, the state had wisely limited public universities and thus had sufficient resources to support all three schools. The University of Iowa and Iowa State University were among the top research schools, with world class faculty who made major contributions in their fields from magnetosphere physics to improved food production. Think James Van Allen and Norman Borlaug. University of Northern Iowa was considered an outstanding teacher education school with a nationwide reputation. Pretty impressive.

Recently, the Republican “cut” mentality has taken over and our education system has suffered despite the objections of Democrats. The Republicans are clever with their words. Yes, state funding to K-12 schools has increased, but hasn’t kept up with inflation. A more accurate description is “underfunding,” and it has hurt.

The school vouchers Republicans propose would mean less money for schools. The result could be higher property taxes. Further, state money would support religious schools, contrary to our country’s long held values of separation of church and

state.

Schools don’t improve or decline overnight. We are seeing a gradual slip in educational quality in our great state. Good faculty are leaving our universities, and test score rankings in K-12 schools are slipping relative to other states in spite of the tremendous efforts of our excellent but shortchanged teachers.

The sad reality is the Republicans are presiding over the dismantling of one of the country’s best school systems, and it must be stopped. Shortsighted underfunding of the K-12 schools is an embarrassment to the Education State. It will stunt economic growth and hurt our attempts to attract jobs. Businesses care far more about an educated and productive workforce than a few dollars in tax breaks.

I have spent my entire life in education and am not ashamed to admit I am biased toward it. I see it as the key to unlocking so many doors from poverty eradication to economic prosperity. This election provides an opportunity to make one small change in the Republican Legislature’s unenlightened attitude on educational funding. If we do, it will send a message. Please be on the side of education in Iowa and do not be deceived by word games designed to fool us. It’s critical we make Iowa the Education State again.

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Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the economics department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the university.

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