Do not shortchange public education

I was talking with my mother recently about the start of the school year. She’s a seventh grade teacher up in northwest Iowa in Estherville. I’m a medical student at the University of Iowa. She and I share an intense love of learning. My family has had incredible opportunity because of Iowa’s commitment to public education. My family’s relationship with public education in Iowa spans three generations, starting with my grandpa Dick Tighe.

Grandpa Tighe spent most of his career in Iowa public schools. From 1967-97 he taught history and coached football in Webster City. At 85, Grandpa still coaches football (now at Fort Dodge St. Ed’s) and substitute teaches. Three of his six children are public school teachers here in Iowa. Both of my parents graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, and support for public education allowed my dad to be the first person in his family to go to college. In my generation, the Tighe cousins have earned nine undergraduate and four professional degrees from Iowa’s public universities. Today, I’ve got a brother at UNI, a sister at Iowa State and three cousins at the University of Iowa. Without public education, my family’s story wouldn’t be possible. So you can understand my concern when it appears Iowa’s commitment to public education has faltered.

My mother transferred to UNI in 1981, when tuition was $900 per year. Today, it’s a different story. Undergraduate resident tuition for UNI’s 2016 entering class is $7,098 per year. Even after adjusting for inflation, this represents a 238% increase. It’s worth noting that until 1882, tuition was free to all students intending to teach in Iowa. Perhaps free college isn’t a radical idea, but instead a return to our heritage.

In recent years funding K-12 education has become increasingly partisan. In addition, there have already been calls for more tuition increases for students at Iowa’s public universities. Since 2008, per-student funding at Iowa’s public universities has fallen 22 percent, and the average tuition in state has increased by $770. We hear again and again that we can’t justify increased spending for Iowa’s schools. Iowa doesn’t have a spending problem- it has a revenue problem. Trying to attract out-of-state businesses with tax deals isn’t a winning strategy. Statistical analyses show that short sighted tax cuts do less to stimulate economic growth than investments in education. On the other hand, the University of Iowa contributes $6 billion to Iowa’s economy annually, creating 1 in 30 Iowa jobs. I don’t want Iowa to become like Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback’s embrace of supply-side economics has devastated public education. I don’t want Iowa to become like Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker slashed the University of Wisconsin budget by $250 million. We can and must do better.

Public education has played an essential role in my family’s history. More importantly, public education has played an essential role in Iowa’s history. It’s time we reaffirm our commitment to public education. It’s the Iowan thing to do.

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Rob Humble resides in Iowa City.