Now is the Time to Invest in Iowa Public Schools
Legislature Must Do More to Help Students Recover
This session, a number of bills have been introduced to dismantle or punish Iowa’s public schools.
Iowa Republican lawmakers first passed budgets for Iowa’s public schools that fell well short of what is needed to help our students and schools recover from the pandemic.
The good news is that President Biden listened to parents, teachers and school leaders and is sending $775 million to Iowa schools from the American Rescue Plan for COVID relief and recovery.
Public Money for Public Schools
Republican lawmakers are also considering bills that would shift hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars from public schools to homeschools and private schools instead.
Senate File 159, which originally passed the Senate in January, is a school voucher bill that would not only divert money away from public schools, but also create charter schools. These proposals have been met with strong opposition from students, parents, teachers, and school leaders. Especially during this pandemic when schools are facing historic challenges, lawmakers should not divert millions in state tax dollars to private schools.
While the Iowa House Majority party has yet to pass the vouchers bill, they are considering a different bill this week, HF 813, that would create new charter schools in Iowa. Charter schools are funded with tax dollars, but are generally subject to fewer rules and regulations than traditional public schools. Charter schools are typically run by unaccountable, out-of-state, private companies. Charter schools have largely failed on a national scale.
In Iowa, 92 percent of students attend public schools and current state funding for public schools is well below the national average. The state also already provides $58 million for students who attend non-public schools.
Permanent Restoration of Felon Voting Rights Considered in House
Despite broad support, many attempts to restore felon voting rights by the Iowa Legislature have failed. Last August, however, Governor Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights to many Iowans with a felony conviction. At the time, Iowa was the only remaining state to permanently disenfranchise all felons from voting and it was estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 Iowans did not have the right to vote because of a felony conviction.
However, the legislature is looking to make the permanent change to Iowa’s constitution. HJR 11 would amend the Iowa Constitution to restore the right to vote to anyone that committed a felony but has discharged his or her sentence. HF 818 requires someone to complete any confinement, parole, probation, special sentence, and pay all actual damages to a victim to have voting rights restored. Felons convicted of certain crimes, like certain sexual offenses or homicide, can only have their rights restored by the Governor.
Under Iowa law, an amendment to the state Constitution has to pass two consecutive General Assemblies and be presented to the voters. The amendment would still have to pass the Iowa Senate this year or next to have passed the current two-year General Assembly. If the amendment then passed the next General Assembly, starting in January 2023, the amendment would be put before the voters on the General Election ballot in November 2024. If a majority of the voters approved the change, the Iowa Constitution would be amended.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program Expansion
In an effort to increase the number of new farms in Iowa, the Iowa Legislature voted to expand the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit this week. The Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program incentivizes Iowa landowners to rent agricultural land to beginning farmers by issuing tax credits to landowners to offset their individual or corporate tax liability.
The new expansion, HF 694 allows tax credits to be given to landowners for lease agreements regardless if it is agricultural land, pastures, buildings, or other structures used in farming. Landowners can receive a tax credit for up to 15 years and they can receive up to $50,000 per lease agreement per year. The program remains capped at $12 million annually but with the expansion hopefully more landowners will rent to beginning farmers.
The Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program was first enacted in 2006 and due to demand has expanded over the years. The Iowa Finance Authority administers the program and there are currently close to 1,300 landowners who receive a tax credit.
The bill now goes to the Senate for their consideration.
Coping with COVID-19; Many Iowans Utilizing Telehealth
Many Iowans have been struggling with isolation, loss and grief for over a year now.
It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are ways that you can help yourself, others, and your community manage stress.
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories.
- Take care of your body. Be sure you are eating well, exercise, sleep and get vaccinated when available.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Meet in person with masks, virtually or by phone. If both individuals are vaccinated you can safely meet inside.
During the pandemic, many people have been utilizing telehealth for counseling services. Telehealth is the use of telecommunication services for doctor appointments. A person can receive mental health counseling, dentistry, primary care, and physical therapy among other services through a computer monitor without having to be in the actual facility. A way to make telehealth more accessible across the state is to have insurance companies reimburse these online services at the same rate of in-person. This session, a bill, HF 706, will provide this parity and is now in the Iowa House waiting for consideration.
There are resources available to Iowans from COVID Recovery Iowa for virtual counseling and assistance at covidrecoveryiowa.org/ or Your Life Iowa for mental health and addiction resources are available at: yourlifeiowa.org/.
Affordable Health Care Options Available
On the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, President Biden re-opened the ACA’s special enrollment period so individuals experiencing hardship during the pandemic have access to comprehensive, affordable health care.
The move comes just after the American Rescue Plan was signed into law which expands ACA subsidies to cover more middle-class families during 2021 and 2022. During this time, Iowans will not have to pay more than 8.5% of their income for an ACA marketplace silver plan and individuals below 150% of the poverty level will pay no premium cost.
Iowans can enroll in ACA plans due to the COVID-19 emergency at healthcare.gov until August 15, 2021.
Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, the ACA has extended insurance coverage to more than 30 million uninsured through Medicaid expansion and provided private affordable comprehensive insurance subsidies to lower-and-middle income Americans. Since that time, there have been at least 70 GOP-led attempts to repeal, modify, or curb ACA protections and coverage. Despite these failed attempts, the ACA still stands.
To date, the ACA’s most popular provisions include pre-existing condition protections and allowing young adults 26 and younger remain on their parents’ insurance plan. Currently 1.3 million Iowans have a pre-existing condition and nearly 227,000 Iowans could lose their health coverage if the ACA was overturned. During special enrollment periods, Iowa’s enrollment numbers have beyond doubled from 2018 to 2020.
Majority of Iowans Opposed to Voter Suppression
Iowans are reacting to the recent fast-tracked voter suppression tactics by Republican lawmakers that have now been signed by the Governor. A recent poll finds that a majority of Iowans are opposed to the changes that include shortening the length the polls are open, less time to vote absentee, and fewer days to request a ballot.
The poll that was conducted March 7-10 found that 52 percent of Iowans were opposed to cutting the amount of time to request and cast an absentee ballot.
House File 590, that gave the public little time to weigh in, makes it harder to vote both in person and by mail, by lowering the number of early voting days by more than a week, closing polling locations early, and shortening the amount of time to request an absentee ballot.
Other Iowa News
SPRING TROUT STOCKING: Every spring, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks trout in several urban lakes across Iowa. The DNR has started stocking urban lakes with 1,000 to 2,000 rainbow trout in selected lakes to bring fishing to urban parts of the state. Due to COVID-19, dates and times of the stocking were not announced and the DNR does not plan to announce future dates this spring. So far nine lakes have been stocked with trout and the DNR will continue to stock lakes throughout the spring. For more information on which lakes have been stocked visit, iowadnr.gov/Fishing/Trout-Fishing.
IOWA LIVING ROADWAY TRUST FUND APPLICATIONS: The Department of Transportation (DOT) is accepting applications for grants from the Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund. Cities, counties, and organizations with a statewide focus can apply for a grant to enhance vegetation on Iowa’s roadsides. The fund was established in 1988 to promote projects that educate the public about the need for roadside vegetation and ensure that roadside vegetation is preserved, planted, a d maintained, which adds to the safety, ecological integration, and visual interest of Iowa’s roads. Since the fund began, over $17 million has been given to projects across Iowa. Applications are due by June 4th. There are matching requirements for projects. More information can be found on the DOT’s website, iowadot.gov/lrtf/Grants.
POLLUTION PREVENTION PROGRAM HELPS COMPANIES IMPROVE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: The Department of Natural Resources Pollution Prevention Intern Program allows college engineering students a chance to work on-site at companies around the state to improve the environmental impact at those businesses. The interns research pollution prevention strategies for those companies and provide calculated recommendations to improve operations. Companies then utilize the research and recommendations to help meet environmental performance goals. For more information on the program, including a list of 2021 projects, visit: iowap2interns.com.
SHE GOES OUTDOORS SUBSCRIPTION BOXES: The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has teamed up with Kansas and Nebraska to offer a quarterly outdoor subscription box to women interested in hunting and the outdoors. Boxes are $50 and include gear, educational resources, and field guides. An online tutorial accompanies each subscription box. The spring box is focused on fishing. Two hundred boxes are available through April 11th and they ship at the end of April. Visit sgooutdoors.com for more information.