Public Dollars for Public Schools
School Voucher Debate Continues in Iowa House
Lawmakers started debate on a new school voucher bill introduced this year that would shift millions from public schools to private schools and homeschools instead.
Senate File 159, which passed the Iowa Senate last week, was met with strong opposition from students, parents, teachers, and school leaders. They pointed out that Iowa parents already have options for educating their children, including open enrollment, private schools, and home schools. And especially during this pandemic when schools are facing historic challenges, lawmakers should not divert $53 million in state tax dollars to private schools.
Concerns were also expressed that taking away more money from schools when they are already underfunded will result in more school closings, higher class sizes, and fewer opportunities for kids in public schools.
Currently, the State of Iowa already provides millions in public tax dollars for private schools and homeschool assistance. That includes millions in tax credits to private and corporate donors that get state tax incentives for donations to nonprofit organizations that fund tuition scholarships for private schools and homeschools.
Iowa’s publicly funded Area Education Agencies (AEA) also provides support to private schools for special education programs, health services, services for remedial education programs, guidance services, and school testing services.
Iowans concerned about starting a new voucher program in Iowa are encouraged to contact members of the Iowa House Education committee at: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/committees/committee?ga=89&groupID=686.
Bill to Cap Insulin Costs at $100 Considered
Designed to cap prescription insulin costs at $100, House File 263 is making its way through the Legislature. Currently, insulin prices for those who are insured vary, but some brands have reached up to $300 or more for one vial (or enough for one month). The cost of insulin has continually increased over the last decade. The list prices of common insulin types have almost tripled from 10 years ago. One patient stated that they paid $20 out-of-pocket in 1997 per vial, and now they have to pay $294 for the exact same medication.
To address accessibility, another bill in the House allows patients to receive a 31-day emergency insulin supply with an expired prescription. The bill also includes medications like Epi-Pens and rescue inhalers. HF 262 is intended to prevent situations when a patient is unable to receive medications because they can’t reach their doctor, and they have an expired prescription.
Not taking insulin or insulin-rationing is a life-or-death situation. House Democrats will continue to work trying to lower the cost and make this medication available to everyone.
House Passes Bill Eliminating Program Helping Low-Income Students
Education studies have shown that high concentrations of low-income students can affect student achievement, but this can be curtailed with targeted programs to help low-income students. Yet the House has passed a bill that would eliminate the ability of five school districts to provide additional support for these students.
Low-income students may have parents that are working more than one job, or who are unable to provide materials or a suitable learning environment at home. Schools assist low-income students with free or reduced-price meals (both breakfast and lunch), and before or after school programs that provide extra tutoring. House File 228 will prevent a district from controlling their enrollment at their discretion if they feel open enrollment will adversely affect their district.
The bill now goes to the Senate, but the Senate has already passed it as part of a provision in another bill, the Governor’s Education Omnibus bill, Senate File 159.
Distracted Driving Legislation Moves Through the Iowa House
New regulations to make driving safer in Iowa is making its way through the Iowa House. Iowans are prohibited from using a handheld electronic communication device to write, send, or view electronic messages while driving. People who are ticketed for violating this law receive a non-moving violation penalty and a fine of $45. A new bill being discussed in the Iowa House changes that law. House File 75 will prohibit any use of an electronic device while driving unless people are using hands-free mode, voice commands, or technology built into the car. People who violate this law will face a moving violation penalty and a fine of $100.
Proponents of the bill believe this will make the roads safer because drivers will be less distracted and cause fewer accidents. Several other states already have similar laws, including Illinois and Minnesota. Opponents of the bill believe it is hard to enforce and not everyone has the technology to use hands-free or voice activated commands.
The bill passed the House Transportation Committee this week and is eligible for debate on the House Floor next week.
US Census Data Delayed, Impacting Redistricting
One of the more under-reported failures of the previous administration was the mismanagement of the US Census. Every ten years the US counts the number of people in the country and these population counts are used to decide representation at both the state and federal level.
The 2020 federal census was littered with delays due to COVID-19 and failures of the previous administration that could push Iowa’s redistricting process late into the year. Data that is usually given to the state by April 1 won’t be available until July 30th at the earliest. The Iowa Constitution gives the legislature a September 1st deadline of approving their new districts, meaning the legislature may not have enough time to approve the non-partisan maps.
If the Legislature is unable to finish by the deadline set by the constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court will be tasked with drawing the new districts for the Legislature.
Home Heating Assistance and Tips to Reduce Winter Heating Costs
With cold weather and storm systems that are producing large snow accumulations, some Iowa consumers are experiencing higher utility costs due to an increased use of their heating system.
Each year, LIHEAP-qualified households may receive a one-time payment to assist with their household heating costs, regardless of heating fuel type. This weatherization program provides long-term financial relief by improving energy efficiency in homes and educating utility customers about their energy use and methods to reduce consumption. Applications for both programs should be made with the local community action agency (CAA) serving the community of residence of the applicant. The annual application period runs from November 1 through April 30, with early applications accepted during October for households with a member that is either disabled or at least 60 years old.
Once qualified, the utility is notified and the applicant is eligible for protection from disconnection of energy utility service during Iowa’s annual winter disconnection moratorium between November 1 and April 1. The LIHEAP payment is made directly to the utility or heating fuel vendor.
Applications for the LIHEAP and Weatherization programs are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tips to Reduce Winter Heating Costs
The Iowa Utilities Board has offered some tips to help consumers remain safe and warm while reducing heating costs.
Lowering the thermostat while sleeping or not being home is the most common method for utility customers to save energy and money. The Iowa Utilities Board recommends installing an automatic setback or programmable thermostat to use for maintaining comfort while reducing energy costs.
For personal and property safety, thermostat temperatures must always remain at a setting that does not impact any person’s health or cause pipes to freeze.
Other winter energy-saving options and safety tips for the home include:
- Inspect, clean, and change furnace filters following manufacturers’ recommendations
- Weatherize exterior doors and windows
- Never use portable combustion generators indoors, which can be fatal due to carbon monoxide poisoning
- Never use stoves, ovens, grills, gas or kerosene heaters indoors for space heating
- When using a fireplace or wood-burning stove, always ensure there is adequate venting
- Never leave candles, space heaters, or open flames from fireplaces unattended
- Always make sure smoke alarms are connected and functioning properly
For additional tips or assistance to save energy, Iowa consumers may visit the Iowa Utilities Board Tips to Save Energy webpage or contact the Iowa Utilities Board at (877) 565-4450.
Other Iowa News
IMPORTANT UNEMPLOYMENT INFORMATION: Iowans on unemployment should be receiving the extra $300 a week in payments, which is paid for by the federal government. Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) is also in the process of paying people retroactively for the extra $300. Last week IWD made an error when it switched banks for people who receive unemployment payments on debit cards. For people who received the incorrect debit card, a new debit card should be on its way. Unfortunately, last week’s payment is not loaded on the debit card. IWD is working on getting last week’s payment uploaded, but it will take time. Continue to file the weekly claim and future payments will be loaded onto the card. For more information or to file for unemployment visit, https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/.
IOWA SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE STILL AVAILABLE: Help is available for small businesses who have experienced a decrease in revenue due to COVID-19. Many small businesses and nonprofits are eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through the Small Business Administration. The PPP is a forgivable loan program. The loans are forgiven as long as the money is used to pay for salaries and other ongoing business expenses. More information can be found on the Small Business Administration’s website, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) has a grant program for Iowa restaurants and bars. Bars and restaurants that have experienced at least a 15% loss in revenue due to COVID-19 can apply to receive up to $25,000. Grant awards will be determined by the amount of decrease in gross sales in the second and third quarters of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Applications are being accepted now through February 15th. More information can be found on IEDA’s website, https://www.iowaeda.com/covid-funding-programs/restaurant-bar/.
HUNTER INPUT WANTED: The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hosting a virtual meeting to discuss hunting and trapping seasons, possible changes to rules and regulations, and other topics related to hunting. The DNR wants to hear from hunters across the state. This is an opportunity for hunters to voice their opinion. The meeting will take place over zoom. It is free to attend but people must register ahead of time. People interested in attending can sign up here, https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0qfuqsqz8jG9TAEH20gv500Jo_VUSq5D8X.
WEEKLY COVID VACCINE UPDATE: Residents across the state of Iowa are continuing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As of 2/2/2021, over 263,000 doses have been administered, and over 64,000 series have been completed (residents who have already received both doses). Doses started to be administered to the Phase 1B category on February 1. This group includes persons age 65 and older; PK-12 school staff, early education and childcare workers; and first responders (firefighters, police officers, child welfare social workers). However, due to a limited supply, people who are eligible to get the vaccine are unable to do so. But, the Biden Administration recently increased the nationwide supply by 5%. This means Iowa will receive 28,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine (up from 25,800 last week), and 19,500 of the Pfizer vaccine (no change) this week. This situation is very fluid and more changes are expected. To view the latest information, please visit: https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/vaccineinformation.
COURTS IMPLEMENT JUROR SAFETY MEASURES AS JURY TRIALS RESTART: The Iowa state courts postponed all jury trials in March of last to protect the public during COVID-19. The courts tried to resume jury trials in the fall, but paused the trials again as cases rose in the state in November. Jury trials have now resumed starting February 1st. As jury trials are restarting, the courts released a PSA on safety measures put in place to protect jurors in these cases. Jury summons have been updated to include a special questionnaire with specific information for jurors on COVID-19, including a deferral of up to a year. Locations for jury duty, as well as check in procedures, have been changed in many counties to allow for social distancing. The Judicial Branch launched a “Serving Safely” website to provide information on protecting the health of jurors while restarting these trials. The website can be found at https://www.iowacourts.gov/iowa-courts/jury-service/.