Adjournment Delayed, School Vouchers Sticking Point
This week, the Iowa Legislature headed into its second week of overtime. We’ve heard from lots of Iowans who are more than fed up with politics, and think it is time for the session to adjourn.
In an effort to close down the session, the Governor and Majority Party leaders are working behind closed doors to try and strike a deal. The biggest sticking point is a voucher bill that would divert millions of dollars from our local public schools to give to private schools that would help only two percent of kids.
With Democrats in the House and Senate unified against funneling public money into private schools, Senate Republicans have given House Republicans an ultimatum to either pass vouchers or the Senate won’t pass the budget which would allow for adjournment. Governor Reynolds has been twisting arms to get the voucher bill passed. As of today, there are still not enough votes to pass the bill in the House.
Instead of siphoning off critical funding for our kids, lawmakers should be investing in our public schools and in all students by:
- Reducing class sizes and making preschool an increased option for all parents
- Recruiting and keeping more great teachers in our classrooms by treating them with respect and paying them what they’re worth
- Expanding STEM and technical education options that prepare students for immediate job openings upon graduation
If you believe public money belongs in public schools, encourage House and Senate lawmakers to oppose private school vouchers. Use this tool to find their contact information: secure.ngpvan.com/oCjorrYaRE-aU8axEDhe9Q2.
Child Care Bill Leads to Safety Issues and Workforce Concern
When the session began in January, Democratic lawmakers were focused on rebuilding our economy to reward hard work and put more money in the pockets of everyday Iowans. Since Iowa is currently facing a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas, a top priority among Dems has been increasing accessibility to child care. While it most directly impacts families with small children, it also hinders Iowa’s economy and acts as a large barrier in recruiting and building a skilled workforce.
Promises were made by Majority Party lawmakers to work together to come up with solutions to the child care shortage. In response, they passed a bill that is widely opposed by Iowans; ignores the current shortage of child care options; does nothing to increase pay for providers or lower costs for families; and further risks the safety of Iowa’s children.
House File 2198 lowers the age of an unsupervised child care worker from 18-years old to 16-years old. This means that an unsupervised 16-year-old could be solely responsible for up to 15 children between the ages of 5-10. Both Iowans and child care facilities have widely expressed safety concerns with these scenarios. In fact, according to a Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, 65 percent of Iowans are opposed to the bill.
The legislation additionally increases the child-to-staff ratio in classrooms with children ages 2 and 3, causing the same number of staff to take care of more toddlers without an increase in pay or additional resources. Providers and parents are greatly concerned this change will lead to burnout among Iowa’s already exasperated childcare workers.
The issue of child care affordability and accessibility will only be solved by big ideas and solutions. Democratic lawmakers have proposed several ideas to not only address safety concerns, but to increase the wages of the child care workers. Increasing the rates child care providers receive would help ensure providers aren’t forced to compromise attention, and keep kids safe.
The bill now goes to the Governor to be signed into law.
Workforce Shortage Solution Falls Short
Iowa has a workforce shortage that only continues to worsen. So far, we have seen very little from Republican lawmakers in an effort to alleviate the workforce crisis.
This week, Republican lawmakers voted to take away earned unemployment from Iowans who lost a job through no fault of their own. House File 2355 cuts earned unemployment benefits by 10 weeks. The bill further mandates people accept jobs even if the offered wage is significantly less than what they were earning. Majority party lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds have said the bill will solve Iowa’s workforce shortage, however according to research, previous cuts to unemployment programs made no noteworthy increase in workforce participation and actually fueled a cut in household spending.
Republican lawmakers approved another bill, House File 2569, referred to as the “Governor’s Workforce Plan”. The bill falls well-short of retaining and recruiting workers in Iowa. While it does include some new workplace learning opportunities for high schoolers and expands loan repayment programs for medical professionals, it does nothing to bring new workers to Iowa or encourage Iowans to stay here.
Without a shift in priorities, Iowa will continue to struggle to keep young people in Iowa and attract new workers to live here.
Iowa to Remain a Leader in Renewable Fuels
Iowa’s strong agricultural and manufacturing heritage has made us a world leader in renewable energies such as wind, solar, ethanol, and biodiesel. It has created tens of thousands of jobs and pumped billions of dollars into our economy.
House Democrats continued their support of these efforts by voting for a bill this week to expand the use of renewable fuels in the state. House File 2128 sets a new renewable fuel standard for service stations in the state to encourage expanded availability of renewable fuels and ensure that ethanol blended gasoline of at least 15 percent, often referred to as E-15, is available at more locations around the state.
The bill also expands a number of renewable fuel credits, which include incentives for the production of higher ethanol blends like E-85, biodiesel production, and a credit for retailers that blend gas that is at least E-15. The final version of the bill prioritizes these incentives for smaller producers, providing more financial help for the smallest “mom and pop retailers” to upgrade their ability to sell renewable fuels. The bill additionally includes expanded waivers from requirements for small retailers that could have trouble meeting the new requirements in the short term.
HF 2128 passed both the House and the Senate this week and will now go to the Governor to be signed into law.
Help for Research Animals to Find Forever Homes
When many Iowans think of animal testing in research facilities they may default to mice or rats, when in reality, all types of animals are used to help scientist fight disease. This practice has been especially prominent over the last few years as many animals have been used in the research to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Animals currently used in research facilities must be made available for adoption, thanks to the approval of Senate File 2260. This will make more animals who are looking for a safe and loving home available to potential households willing to adopt.
According to population estimates, Iowans love their pets. Nearly 60 percent of Iowans own a pet and of those 35 percent of households own a dog, the same percentage of households own a cat.
After One Year, Only Two Charter Schools Approved
Governor Reynolds proclaimed her 2021 approved charter school bill would have an immediate and dramatic impact on Iowa’s educational system. One year later, only two new charter schools have been approved in Iowa for the next school year (2022-23).
The two schools approved by the Iowa State Board of Education will operate in southwest Iowa. Hamburg Charter School is being created in conjunction with the Hamburg Community School District, while Choice Charter School is being founded with Iowa NET High Academy and Jordahl Academy.
The low number of approvals is good news for Iowa parents concerned about the formation of charter schools, and the negative impact they have had on rural schools. These charter schools can be created by out-of-state, for-profit companies and function without local school board approval, and unelected school boards.
The Department of Education indicates that there are no new applications for another charter school at this time, but they continue to field questions from potential applicants. Iowa also has two other existing charter schools that will continue in operation: Storm Lake Early College Charter in coordination with both Iowa Central Community College and Buena Vista College, and the West Central Charter High School which coincides with the Maynard School District.
Student Loan Repayments Paused through August 31
In an effort to aid college graduates as they continue to economically rebound from the pandemic, the Biden Administration has extended the freeze on student loan repayments, interest, and collections through August 31, 2022. The cease in payment was previously scheduled to end on May 1, 2022.
Allowing graduates additional time to become more financially secure will reduce the risk of delinquency. According to the federal Department of Education, they will use the time to “continue to assess the financial impacts of the pandemic on student loan borrowers and to prepare to transition borrowers smoothly back into repayment.”
For more information on student loans and repayment options, visit ed.gov.
More Iowa News
IOWA COLLEGE STUDENTS INDICATE MENTAL HEALTH STRESS: A recent national report shows that more than 75 percent of students at four-year colleges have considered dropping out due to emotional stress and nearly 70 percent of students at two-year colleges have reached the same stress levels according to Higher Ed Dive. President Wilson at the University of Iowa has indicated that she wants to continue to prioritize mental health on campus. This would include services like the 24-hour Mental Health Support Line for Students. House Democrats have attempted to address mental health by offering a proposal that would have provided a $1 million increase to the Board of Regents to provide mental health services to Regent students. However, the proposed amendment was defeated on the House floor.
PRESIDENT BIDEN STRENGTHENS AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE ACCESS: President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to improve citizens’ access to healthcare by expanding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid. The Administration aims at closing a loophole that limits coverage assistance to those who receive healthcare through a family members’ employer. Currently, Iowans who have an affordable offer of healthcare coverage through their employer (less than 10 percent of their income) are ineligible to purchase healthcare through the marketplace, which is oftentimes cheaper. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), around five million people nationally have fallen victim to the “family glitch”. This Executive Order will allow more Iowans to enroll in the marketplace, by expanding the eligibility for tax credits and will save thousands of families hundreds of dollars a month.
DOT AUCTION ON MAY 7TH: The annual public auction by the Department of Transportation (DOT) will be held on Saturday, May 7th. Auction items include vehicles, trailers, plows, golf carts, a Lowe’s flat bottom boat, tires, mowers, brine tanks, spray equipment, and lawn equipment. Iowans can look at the auction items on Friday, May 6th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and again from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. The auction starts at 9 a.m. at the DOT auction building near 931 South 4th Street in Ames. For more information and to see an inventory list of what is being sold visit, iowadot.gov/auction.
IOWA RECEIVES MILLIONS IN TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: Attorney General Tom Miller announced tobacco companies involved in the 1998 landmark settlement have transferred $53.2 million to Iowa’s state treasury for this year’s payment. During the last 24 years, Iowa has received $1.41 billion in payments under the settlement and will continue to receive annual payments based on the number of cigarettes sold in the U.S. In 1998, the Attorney General signed the annual Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) along with 45 attorneys general to settle lawsuits and recover billions in state health care costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses. The settlement created restrictions on cigarette advertising, marketing and promotion, including a ban on targeting children. Since the MSA was announced, cigarette sales in the U.S. have substantially fallen. Adult smoking rates have fallen from 24 percent in 1999 to 12.5 percent in 2020. Only 13.4 percent of high school students reported smoking a cigarette in the past 30 days in 2020.