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Education majors rally for collective-bargaining rights

by Laura Wiersema, News Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa — Innumerous Simpson College students are pursuing education in some way.

A handful of them on Sunday joined more than 1,000 marchers standing for their collective-bargaining rights as teachers at the state Capitol.

Removing collective bargaining would affect not only public education teachers but other civil service workers like firefighters and city workers. It would take away the rights of these workers to discuss and negotiate contracts regarding health insurance, hours, vacation time and projects they’d like to work on.

For teachers, it also takes away their ability of advocate for their students. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research in 2014, five states — Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — have already made collective bargaining illegal for teachers.

“The ways they are proposing to change our collective-bargaining laws are very similar to what Wisconsin enacted five years ago and have proven to fail,” said sophomore music education major Kaylee Willadsen, who attended the march, in an email. “This rewrite would result in lower pay and diminished benefits for Iowa teachers.”

Junior Mandy Brown, who also attended the march, said her dream job would be to teach sociology in a high school, an area she sees as particularly lacking in education.

“I marched for previous teachers who have completely shaped how I see the world and really done amazing things for me,” she said. “I can’t imagine my life without those people.”

The push to relinquish collective-bargaining rights for public employees stems from the Republican Party, which has a majority in both the Iowa House of Representatives (59-41) and Iowa Senate (29-21). The proposed changes would cut education costs in Iowa, an appealing aspect to many legislators.

“What’s happening is people like (Secretary of Education Betsy) DeVos and the Republican Legislature who are advocating for the dismantling of collective bargaining are taking away any sort of power public education has to do what they need to do. They’re taking away the right to fund things appropriately,” Brown said.

For those entering the profession, changes like this are disheartening. They can make teachers feel underappreciated, like the work they put in to educate future generations isn’t important.

Brown recalled an encounter with another educator at the march.

“A woman asked me, ‘Are you nervous about going into this and seeing all that you’re going to have to deal with?’” she said. “And, yeah, I’m so nervous. It’s going to be so hard. One of the things they kept reinforcing is that teaching has never been harder ever. You have to provide for needs you never had to provide for.”

While every state has its downfalls and areas for improvement, Willadsen said Iowa performs exceptionally well in comparison with other states. In 2015, KCCI reported that 117 Iowa schools ranked on a national list of best high schools.

“I think Iowa truly values their teachers, and that is represented currently in the kind of teacher attracted and retained in our system and the kind of education they, in turn, provide for our students,” Willadsen said. “By negatively changing basic concepts, such as pay and benefits of our teachers, our state will begin to see the negative educational outcomes of these decisions.”

Studies, like one conducted by Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy in Great Britain, have shown that happy, valued employees are more productive. If Iowa’s educators no longer feel valued because of this legislation, their work and their students will suffer.

“When we are more worried about the money aspect of education over the quality is when I truly start to question the motives of legislators,” Willadsen said. “Passionate teachers make passionate learners. The state should care for their teachers in the way these teachers care for their kids.

“If you are a teacher or love someone who is, please take the time to email our state legislators and make your voice heard as to how you feel.”

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