Guest Columnist

Update on charter schools, campus free expression

Iowa Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield), right, chairs a subcommittee studying House File 160 on charter school reform. Also pictured are Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City), second from right, and Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids), third from right.
Iowa Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield), right, chairs a subcommittee studying House File 160 on charter school reform. Also pictured are Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City), second from right, and Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids), third from right.

Last week, I chaired a subcommittee on House File 160 which would reform Iowa’s charter school law. Charter schools are schools that could receive government funding but would operate independently of the established bureaucracy.

In Fairfield, there are presently non-public schools that are very popular, but often prohibitively expensive. For instance, many students attending Maharishi School rely on tuition assistance from generous donors.

The intent of this legislation is to empower parents with education options. In District 82, we’ve seen rural schools close, which frustrates students with long bus rides and exacerbates already strained transportation costs. Worst of all, it makes parents feel powerless.

Charter school reform will not happen overnight, but I hope to maintain an active discussion on the best ways to evolve education to meet the needs of the 21st century and see what ideas we can explore down the road.

College tuition

The cost of higher education continues to skyrocket. There is no end in sight for tuition increases. I’ve yet to been given a cogent explanation on why the cost of college has multiplied over the decades. In our education committee, it was clearly explained however that the price of college textbooks is obscenely inflated due to “institutional factors.”

Instead of a college degree giving students a head-start in life, many students are left shackled with debt. Further, the quality of education seems to have plummeted. Especially in the liberal arts, college graduates just simply aren’t equipped to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. There are large sections of academia that arguable serve no useful purpose.

College isn’t for everyone and we need to break the narrative that you need a four-year degree to be successful.

Free expression

Worse yet, a culture of hyper political-correctness is emerging on university campuses that seems eerily reminiscent of something from “Newspeak” from George Orwell’s “1984.” The “two-minutes of hate” is another motif from “1984” that is expressing itself in real life. Public anger is frequently directed at individuals who step outside the norms of acceptably polite opinion. Those who question vaccine safety is an example of this presently unfolding.

Often it seems that those who preach tolerance aren’t very tolerant of those who think differently.

That’s why I’m happy to be working on House File 241, which would establish a statement of free expression for our Regents Institutions.

Other schools across the country have seen violence on campus as a result of political correctness and identity politics run amok. This statement would make it clear that violence is never an acceptable response to free thought and free speech.

Free speech is essential because it allows individuals to articulate their own perception of the world.

Free thought is important because to meet the high standards of science, we must be willing to rigorously question everything.

Humor

Also, it’s of critical importance to mention the alarming trend of people not being able to take a joke. Humor is essential to a joyful life and ideas that can stand up to ridicule tend to be true. So whenever a topic is labeled off-limits for discussion or that you’re not allowed to joke about it, that’s usually an indication that there is something less than truthful happening. When stand-up comedians are unwilling to visit college campuses, view that as a canary in the coal mine.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve as State Representative. I’m really beginning to feel the weight of the responsibility and the seemingly insurmountable challenges of the job. With your help, I know we can make real progress on achieving our vision of the highest peace and prosperity.

- Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) represents District 82 in the Iowa House of Representatives. The district includes Davis and Van Buren counties, and the western two-thirds of Jefferson County, including Fairfield. He can be reached at jeff.shipley@legis.iowa.gov.