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K-12 Education

Iowa teachers rally against Legislature's collective bargaining bill

Hundreds met on the steps of the statehouse Sunday

Teachers and supporters from around the state gather to protest low school funding, vouchers and stripping collective bargaining rights Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
Teachers and supporters from around the state gather to protest low school funding, vouchers and stripping collective bargaining rights Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Hundreds of Iowa teachers, school children and other activists rallied outside the statehouse Sunday, voicing opposition to legislation filed last week that would overhaul the state’s collective bargaining law.

The legislation threatens the “backbone of society” by targeting public educators, said Roxann Dittmer, who has spent most of the past 25 years working as an early education teacher in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

“I didn’t choose to be an activist for education,” Dittmer said. “I chose to be a teacher, and it falls to you because you have to fight for what’s right for the good of children and for the families of Iowa.”

The legislation would gut Chapter 20 — which sets the parameters for contract negotiations with public employee unions — Iowa Democrats have said, while Republicans have argued the changes would provide more local control and modernize the 1974 law.

Under the proposed legislation, public employees except for police and firefighters would only be able to bargain for base wages.

“It’s going to be hard to find people to go into public service when we treat them this way,” Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said at Sunday’s march.

Other speakers, including representatives from the Iowa State Education Association and the march’s organizer Iowans for Public Education, said they hope Iowa will avoid the fate of states like Wisconsin that have gutted their collective bargaining laws.

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“Wisconsin has become a state that teachers avoid,” Des Moines Education Association President Andrew Rasmussen told the crowd.

Kelly McMahon, a Cedar Rapids kindergarten teacher at the rally, spent the first nine years of her career teaching in Milwaukee. She said the political climate around public education there drove her from the state.

“We have to be able to attract the brightest people to the profession,” she said. “And when you attack the profession like this, and then you put in scams like education vouchers or education savings accounts, you’re doing nothing but great harm.”

More than losing the ability to bargain for benefits, McMahon said she is worried the proposed changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law will stop teachers from voicing concerns for fear of reprimand.

“There are not only these attacks on our schools and our profession, but also things are happening in our classroom every single day that aren’t OK,” she said. “And we need to be able to speak up and be a voice for our kids.”

Dozens of school-aged children attended the rally with their families. Jenna Pressley, who works for the Ankeny Community School District, attached a sign to her seven-month-old daughter’s stroller that read “attacking teachers attacks my future.”

“She’s going to be directly impacted by what happens to public schools,” Pressley said. “Her mom and dad are both public school teachers, and I want her future to be full of bright, empowered teachers.”

Organizers urged demonstrators to attend a public forum on the collective bargaining changes scheduled for Monday evening at the statehouse. Both Dittmer and McMahon said they’ll be making the trip again from Cedar Rapids.

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“I’m just at the point in my life where I’m tired of apologizing,” Dittmer said. “I’m good at what I do, I love my students, I am an advocate for public education. That’s why I’m here — because this is important to me.

“I’ve read about what has happened in other states, and it’s scary. I don’t want that for our state.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Reporter James Q. Lynch contributed reporting.

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