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Ottumwa teachers fight with legislators over public education

Over 50 people attended Saturday's legislative forum at the Bridge View Center in Ottumwa./KTVO

Saturday morning, Heartland residents had the chance to have an open discussion about issues they’re facing and how they’d like their local legislators to handle them.

The panel included three Republicans: Senator Mark Chelgren (R – Ottumwa), Representative Larry Sheets (R – Centerville) and Senator Ken Rozenboom (R - Oskaloosa). Unfortunately, Democratic Representative Mary Gaskill (D – Ottumwa) was unable to attend the session.

Folks asked them questions about healthcare and this year’s budget. But, things got heated when a group of Ottumwa teachers brought up public education funding.


Melinda Jones asked the legislators why tax payer money goes towards funding private schools and if those schools would be regulated the same way public schools are.

“If they’re going to use public money to fund private schools, then they should be regulated and mandated, just like the public schools are, to teach all students,” said Jones.

But, Jones wasn’t happy with the response she was getting.

“All they talked about was their support of vouchers. They didn’t address my question of regulating private schools or if private schools would be mandated to educate all students like public schools currently are,” said Jones.

Senator Rozenboom says what the teachers were saying is false.

“The assertion was made that we’ve cut education funding. That’s simply not the case," explained Senator Rozenboom. "We’ve increased it every year to the point where in 2011 it increased over 20% over $730 million a year. So that’s frustrating to me when I get shouted down from people saying that we’ve been cutting education. It’s simply not true."

Representative Sheets echoed Rozenboom’s thoughts, adding that the money always follows the student, regardless of whether it’s for private or public school.

“It’s not to the advantage of the union negotiator for example that that money go elsewhere other than the pile of money that the school board gets,” said Rep. Sheets.

The League will host another legislative session in March.

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