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DES MOINES — A state senator from northwest Iowa told a Waterloo teacher to “quit whining” during an email exchange about state funding for public schools.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyeden, sent the terse response to Waterloo West High School science teacher Vaughn Gross after Gross emailed Johnson and 22 other Iowa senators to encourage them to support investing more state money in public education.

In his email sent Wednesday morning, Gross implored senators to support an effort to recall state legislators to the Iowa Capitol and override Gov. Terry Branstad’s veto of $56 million that legislators had approved to supplement a smaller-than-average annual school budget increase. Gross told Iowa senators he has spent $2,000 of his own money each year to “minimally supply” his classroom.

Gross said he sent his email to the 23 Republican senators who voted against the legislative compromise that included the $56 million that Branstad eventually struck down.

“This is unacceptable,” Gross wrote in his email. “While you may see numbers in the budget, it does not diminish the need for supplies. Far too often teachers themselves make up the difference. Your vote of nay will either hurt our children by not supplying them with the materials they need or hurt the educator that funds these on their own to make up for your shortcomings.”

In his initial response sent Wednesday afternoon, Johnson chided Gross for not including where he teaches and told Gross, “Quit whining.”

The discussion became more civil as the men continued their exchange.

Johnson told Gross he has been “fooled” in the past by messages sent via email and social media, so he “tested” Gross to make sure his email was sincere.

Johnson told the Sioux City Journal on Thursday that Republican legislators have been receiving emails that appeared to be “a concerted attack on our education votes.”

“Mr. Gross’ email came in, and I decided to put my foot down,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he does not regret telling Gross to “quit whining.”

“I don’t take anything back," Johnson said. "That was my way of saying, ‘Take a deep breath.’”

Gross posted the email exchange on social media, and Johnson said he has since received vulgar verbal attacks.

Gross said although Johnson’s tone improved during their exchange, he was disappointed by Johnson’s initial response.

“Him being a senator, I would hope his initial response back to somebody who’s asking him about why he voted a certain way isn’t with that tone,” Gross said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re supposed to be encouraging people to get involved, not discouraging them.”

Gross said he thinks state funding to public schools has been “minimal,” and he hopes legislators and the governor decide in the near future to invest more money in education.

(Sioux City Journal reporter Bret Hayworth contributed to this story.)

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