Monthly Archives: May 2017

In Public Education We Trust

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is expected to offer details about the Trump administration’s vision for a federal investment in school choice in a major policy speech. The School Choice and Charter School initiative she and the administration supports is based on the idea that they will create a competitive market and thereby improve all schools.

They argue that if there are charter schools in a region, they will lure away sufficient numbers of students (and therefore money) from the existing public school system so that “the system will be forced to make positive changes, or cease to exist.”

It is based on the competitive market principle that corrections are in the control of each entity and in the case of failing public schools it assumes they are failing because they aren’t motivated to succeed; or are too stubborn to make the necessary changes. But, it is shortsighted as it does not consider if those “positive changes” are reliant on funds. And moreover, impeded by socio-political hurdles. What if the burden of certain public schools lies in the fact that its student population has unique challenges inherent to their location?

What happens when failing schools cannot make those “positive changes”? What happens to the students who couldn’t go to a choice or charter school? What happens when the charter and choice schools are full? What happens to the spill over students? To the teachers? To the community around those schools that have closed?

And what happens to the choice schools when they absorb underachieving students? Won’t they be faced with the same challenges the public schools faced? What then has been “fixed”?

Are they underachievers because they just aren’t motivated enough? Or maybe they have to hold down a job? Maybe some of them support their family. Maybe some of them come from a family legacy that does not support education. Maybe some of them live in abject poverty and have succumbed to the pathologies that come with it
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A spinning wheel of competition is not an educational paradigm. Public Education was founded by the reality that students are of different abilities, capacities, learning curves, and myriad differences in growth and maturity. Competition exists against one’s own progress, not a standardized criteria that demands that one size fits all.

School Choice can be part of the system, but as the framework for the system itself it will be the undoing of Public Education. I believe that is ultimately the true intention of those supporting the program (and to direct tax dollars to parochial schools). Struggling schools will lose students, lose funding, and be closed. Students that needed those schools will be lost because the new system is not designed to absorb all of them. That is what the Public School system accomplished.

That old Public School was their best “choice.”

What We Pray For


Two years ago I was in the Democratic primary to unseat Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s 1st district. Along with businessman Ravi Patel and Cedar Rapids city council member Monica Vernon, I ran on progressive values and we strengthened each other’s resolve by engaging every single day with constituents and with each other.

By late summer, Mr. Patel left the primary race and former state representative, Pat Murphy, joined. By the following spring (the race was so long I saw seasons change 7 times), I bowed out to support Monica Vernon because I felt that she had the best chance of winning. I went on to run for the Iowa House and Vernon gained the nomination to run against Blum, but incumbents are hard to beat and political intangibles were not in our favor and we both lost.

I’m not pointing this out to re-live the narrative of defeat, but to re-vive the spirit on which we all ran. It was the conviction that we, as Iowans, and as Americans, can do better. We each ran in our respective races because we believed that a dramatic course correction was necessary. Rod Blum rode a wave of Republicans that swept the 2014 midterms, and signaled a significant redirection in American policy. The Blum-Ernst-King trifecta in Washington, the Walt Rogers-Branstad couples-dance in Des Moines, and the Grassley about-face away from Iowans and toward lock-step party interests; caused us to move into action.

Each one of us felt the calling to stand for the middle class, collective bargaining, public education, a cleaner environment, and better access to health care. Today, as Americans are beginning to see where their inattention to details have led them; as health care is being threatened, as Medicaid is privatized and mental health marginalized, as teachers in Iowa can no longer negotiate for benefits they deserve, and budgets are being redirected to pad the pockets of a few at the expense of many—-certain Republicans may be more vulnerable than they ever have been before.

Fool me once, shame on you….you know the rest.

I am not going to run this cycle, I believe that I can help elect good people by helping with messaging and by keeping the pipeline full with topics to discuss. With that in mind, I also want to help recruit great people. One of the most rewarding aspects of running for office was meeting and working with dedicated, bright, energetic, passionate and informed people. Some were elected officials, some were running for office, and many were the people working for candidates and political organizations. One such person is Stacey Walker. This may be a surprise to even Stacey, but I am hereby, suggesting that he seriously considers putting his hat into the ring to run against Rod Blum in 2018.

Stacey Walker is serving his first year as a Linn County Supervisor, and while I know that he is committed to that job, he is exactly the kind of person we need and who, I believe, can unseat Blum. Stacey….if you’re reading this, and assuming we haven’t already spoken, I am going to offer my case for you to run for the 1st Congressional district.

I met Stacey Walker in 2014 while he was working on the Anesa Kajtazović campaign for Congress. Stacey was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, but needed a crash pad in Waterloo and I offered him a room in my house. Over that summer we would take advantage of the rare moments of down time and we’d sit on my back patio to talk politics. His knowledge of issues on every level; local, state, national, and world was impressive. Even more impressive was his personal connection to them.

He is an activist of the most passionate and informed variety. He sincerely wants to help people of all walks of life to succeed and to contribute to the prosperity of a great nation. Even then, I thought to myself: “This guy would be a great representative someday.”

Stacey went on to run Ravi Patel’s campaign and we saw each other at committee meetings, fundraisers, dinners, meet and greets and other Democratic party functions. Even though we were, in fact, running against each other, we benefitted from the honest and positive exchange of ideas. We were not rivals, but friends with a common purpose; to give voice to the needs of working families, the middle class, workers, students, the elderly and infirm.

When Ravi came to the conclusion that his business activities could provide better opportunities for young Iowans than he could as a Congressman, he bowed out and Stacey continued to work behind the scenes for others. That is until he ran for Supervisor. He won on the substance of his ideas, his engaging presentation of them, his passion for people and the community, and his charisma.

All of the qualities we, as voters, pray for in a candidate.

Stacey, someone will surely have sent this to you by now (or I may just give you a call), but I hope that you are seriously considering this. You are a young Iowan with experience and expertise that America needs in Washington.