What the hell happened to Iowa?
What the hell happened to Iowa?
A small, radical minority impacts Iowa schools
A small, radical minority impacts Iowa schools
...Episode 2: Listen to what Iowans are saying

Episode 2: Vouchers? What educators and school-age family members have to say

In a passionate rebuke last week to state lawmakers’ flood of anti-public school legislation, Des Moines School Board President Teree Caldwell-Johnson had this message: “Leave our public schools alone. We are doing just fine. We don't need your interventions around curriculum, what we teach, how we teach, who we teach… Des Moines Public Schools has been in existence for 116 years and we've been doing pretty darn well."

The frustration and weariness are a palpable response to the many ways in which Gov. Kim Reynolds and her cadre of obedient Republican allies in the state Legislature are tampering with education in Iowa – most notably with a law and funding to privatize it. They elevate “parental rights” to the point where schools should need permission to introduce any topic not discussed at home. South Africa’s history of apartheid? The women’s rights movement? The health benefits of vegetarianism? Must these all be vetted at home first?

But lately, those now dictating the norms have found their most potent target in sowing controversy around gender identity. Because hatred and fear of what you don’t understand are usually reliable drivers of division -- and votes.

Not only does a succession of bills attempt to ban school books on transgender identities, and force schools to tell parents if their child is identifying with another gender. But a new bill goes so far as to regulate school employees’ use of student nicknames.

Call Alexandra Alex in class, or Samantha Sam, or Daniel Dani– spelled D-A-N-I, that is -- and a teacher could be held to account -- if they hadn’t obtained prior written parental consent for nicknames associated with the other sex.

And yet these lawmakers who claim to want to protect children sit silent in the face of growing school bullying, especially of those who don’t fit a preconceived notion of what a boy or girl should be. Republican legislators are also trying to remove gender identity as a protected category in Iowa’s civil rights law so bullying on those grounds wouldn’t be a problem.

The CDC says 22% of LGBTQ teenagers attempted suicide in the past year.

Any Iowa lawmaker genuinely concerned with child safety wouldn’t be trying to weaken the laws on child labor to shield businesses from liability if a teen worker gets injured or dies.

They’d be working to curb young people’s access to guns and writing tougher environmental pollution so Iowa’s  children can grow up healthy.

But just the opposite.  They’d rather do handstands over nicknames.

Rekha Basu

What will the impact of the so-called private school voucher bill have on Iowans?

In this episode, Rekha and I spoke with Dr. Stacey Cole, Storm Lake District Superintendent. Her words are powerful and emotional.

State Senator Pam Jochum delivered an impassioned speech to her colleagues on the eve of passage of the controversial and radical voucher bill. We include this clip, along with our conversation with Senator Jochum.

We also spoke to family members of school-age children to see what they think. Our first chat took place in the Junkyard Cafe in Jefferson, and then we had another conversation during lunch time at the Family Table restaurant in Pocahontas.

What about educators? What do they think? We gathered three women on the front lines of the issue.

Teacher Sandra Abbott; Findley Elementary principal Barb Adams, and Joy Linquist, a high school administrator, weigh in on the impact the bill will have on public education.

This podcast is 1 hour and 17 minutes. It is longer than we expected an episode to be, but we believe these voices are vitally important to examining what this radical, anti-public school agenda - moving throughout the country - is having on real people.

We end this episode giving a couple of answers to the question: What can we do?

And, let’s hear from you. Put your ideas in the comment section below.

One thing we can all do is forward this podcast to people you know. Send it to your legislator. Your friends. Go through your contact list and send a group email with the link to this podcast.


Let people hear the sadness, frustration and tears from those who are doing their best to teach and protect our children.

Julie Gammack

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Rekha Basu and Julie Gammack are veteran former newspaper columnists with broadcast experience. Rekha recently retired as an Opinion columnist with The Des Moines Register. Julie currently is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative and produces the annual Okoboji Writers’ Retreat.

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What the hell happened to Iowa? is a reader-supported publication.

What the hell happened to Iowa?

What the hell happened to Iowa?

Julie and Rekha search for answers. Iowa was once considered a progressive state. These professional journalists will explore the state to find out what the hell is going on. Join us.

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