There are two sets of laws in Iowa: Those for the Legislature and those for everyone else.
The state's elitist scheme might martyr Davenport Community School Superintendent Art Tate as the full-force of Iowa's Education Department crashes down upon him.
For six years, lawmakers have shirked their duty on education funding. Set the funding level two-years in advance so districts can plan, the law says. Instead, education is an annual squabble capped by a last-minute accord.
Meanwhile, Tate, with the backing of his school board, has railed for years about the funding model's inequality. Schools that historically spent more local taxes and state aid were locked in at higher levels. Those that pinched pennies, including Davenport Community, were saddled with lower per-pupil spending limits, annually resulting in millions of lost revenue spent on education. The result is neighboring districts, including Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley, spending significantly more on their students.
The result is a middle-class flight out of Davenport to more robust districts. The result is spiking property values in the desirable, moneyed districts, which only exacerbates the gross inequity. The result is poor districts, filled with thousands of poor children, are treated like second-class citizens.
There's nothing fair about Iowa's school funding model. There's nothing appropriate about lawmakers -- many of whom love to chirp about "local control" -- slavishly defending a centralized system, especially one so heinously classist. There's nothing morally defensible about segregating children by class and race through equations that are nothing short of social engineering.
Tate has screamed from the rooftops about this. He's taken his complaints to the Legislature. He's rallied support locally. His board has stuck by him this year as the district broke the law, spent down its rainy day funds (known as fund balance), and, for a short time, assured Davenport's public school students enjoy equal protection.
But, last week, the inevitable happened. The state School Budget Review Committee ducked its opportunity to make a bold statement about funding equality. It joined the Legislature, which has spent years ducking its responsibility. It quashed Davenport's plea to legitimize its stop-gap budgetary maneuver.
A day later, officials at the Education Department filed an ethics complaint against Tate, the first step toward seizing his license and ending his career. Tate was never inappropriate with a student. Funds didn't secretly disappear from the district's account. Hell, just this month, Iowa Board of Regents reaffirmed its support for the president of Iowa State University, even after he's been apparently joyriding in university aircraft on the taxpayer dime.
No, Tate did none of these things. But Art Tate isn't some well-connected executive appointment, is he?
Tate stood up for basic fairness. He demanded equity for his students. He begged lawmakers to figure it out. For years, they ignored him or offered half-baked legislative do-nothings. Sound familiar, Rep. Ross Paustian? And, this year, Tate tapped that $20 million sitting in an account collecting dust. For a year, and maybe this year alone, there will be fairness in Davenport.
But it might come at a cost. It might end the career of Art Tate, a man who is unwilling to simply watch as his district is sent to the back of the bus, year after year.
And yet, lawmakers keep winning re-election. They keep directing this sham. They keep their cushy little jobs in their cushy little seats of power. And Iowa's various boards and agencies refuse to offer a life-line.
Art Tate isn't the unethical one, here.