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Elections, not caucuses, should be the focus

Not that she asked, but I have some advice for Rita Hart, the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Yes, Hart is an experienced practitioner of politics. She was twice elected to the Iowa Senate. She was the Democrats’ lieutenant governor candidate on the ticket with Fred Hubbell in 2018. And two years ago, she came within an eyelash — six votes — of winning a seat in Congress. She also is a former teacher and still farms with her husband near the Clinton County town of Wheatland.

Normally, I would trust the judgment of someone with her credentials on what her priorities should be as the Iowa Democrats’ top state leader. But this is the Iowa Democratic Party, and too many party activists, along with civic boosters and journalists, cling to the belief that the process of choosing presidential nominees absolutely and without question must begin in Iowa.

Message from Iowa Gov. Reynolds and the state Republican Party – transparency is only for suckers

Iowa Capital Dispatch
January 23, 2023

Transparency is for suckers.

That’s the message, loud and clear, from Gov. Kim Reynolds and her Republican enablers in the Legislature.

I’d suspect that this was another, particularly idiotic manifestation of the trans-phobia that has infected Republican officeholders the past few years. But no, Reynolds and GOP lawmakers are insisting on “transparency” through various priority bills in the Legislature while keeping the public in the dark. Everybody loves transparency  – as long as it required of other people.

Reynolds’ recent interview with Amanda Rooker of KCCI-TV made that abundantly clear. Rooker asked Reynolds about the so-called “transparency” measures she is proposing for public schools. These may include ideas proposed in the past, like requiring teachers to post their lesson plans online or school libraries posting every title on their shelves.

Rooker asked if Reynolds would also seek to impose those rules on private schools that receive taxpayer funds from her education savings account proposal.

Reynolds stammered.

“Well, you know they’re held to — you know, most of this would deal with public schools, would public schools right now. So you know, they – it would just be public schools.”

That last phrase is the actual answer. Only public schools would have to post course details and library titles and whatever else the governor and GOP lawmakers can think of to demand from public schools.

So many questions, but so few answers

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that private school vouchers appear to be barreling toward passage by the Iowa Legislature, just three weeks into the 2023 session. These vouchers, or education savings accounts, or whatever you want to call them, would give parents $7,600 per year for each of their kids to attend a private K-12 school.

Although the outcome has been easy to foresee, it has not been easy to get answers to the many questions being asked across the state as lawmakers move to make this landmark change in education in Iowa.

Some questions that deserve answers include:

  • Does the governor and other proponents really believe $900 million can be siphoned away from Iowa’s 327 public school districts over the next four years for vouchers without harming the public schools?
  • The premise is to give parents a choice of where their children will be educated. Don’t parents already have a wide range of options if they can't afford the tuition at a private school — from enrolling their kids in an adjacent public school district at no cost, to home-schooling, or enrolling them tuition-free in Iowa Connections Academy or Iowa Virtual Academy, Iowa’s two online public schools?
  • If a child has learning disabilities or behavior issues, or if English is not the child’s native language, do vouchers serve their intended purpose when these children can be turned away by a private school without the parents having any recourse? When that occurs, what happens to the governor’s “school choice” message?
  • Forty-one of Iowa’s 99 counties do not have any private schools. How are vouchers going to help students in those counties, especially when voucher money cannot be used to pay for the expense of driving to a private school in another county?
  • Do supporters of the governor’s proposal really think state tax revenues will be sufficient to allow the Legislature to allocate $340 million per year for vouchers indefinitely?
  • What happens when the income tax cuts lawmakers approved in 2022 fully take effect in the next few years? These tax cuts will reduce the state general fund revenue by about $2 billion — a reduction of about one-fifth.
  • Won’t the combined effects of the cost of vouchers and the reduced income tax revenue put an excruciating squeeze on the state government’s budget needs? Won’t that squeeze make it nearly impossible to maintain the services that Iowans have come to expect — from state law enforcement, to the courts, state parks, community colleges and state universities, to health care for the poor, and the public schools?
  • Why are Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican leaders in the Legislature adamant to get the voucher program approved before the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency completes its cost analysis — especially without an estimate of how much the state will pay a for-profit company that is still to be chosen to manage the voucher applications and payments?
  • Might the governor and Republican leaders be trying to get this proposal approved before Iowans fully understand the cost, and the consequences, and can express their opinions when their senators and representatives are back home on the weekends?

School enrollment data show there are 482,000 students attending public K-12 schools in Iowa. Private schools now serve 33,000 students.

The governor and proponents of vouchers have talked about the "failing" public schools in Iowa. Shouldn’t these officials be called on to cite specific examples of these failures, so Iowans know whether the concerns are legitimate or exaggerated?

Lousy choices best describes 'school choice' bill

Along the Mississippi

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says her plan to use taxpayer money to pay for private schooling gives people a choice to educate their kids where they want.

But that’s not what her plan says. Just look at the details: Only certain families with kids in public schools will get that choice.

What this plan really does is pay people who already are sending their kids to private schools.

Iowa legislators must support state universities' funding, not just targeted student scholarships

Iowa Capital Dispatch

When I started my freshman year in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated.

I knew I was a writer, but I had no clear job goal in mind. For the first two years at Iowa State University, I registered for courses that would fit into either an English or a journalism major. But I didn’t make up my mind until faced with a deadline: Either pick a major or take an extra year to graduate.

Performing on deadline is a crucial skill for journalists, so I made the decision. I can’t say I’ve never regretted it over the years, but I’ve also never wished I was teaching English instead.

Sadly, the opportunity for young Iowans to explore, experiment and possibly reconsider a career path while in college may become a luxury reserved only for the wealthy.

Republicans who control the Iowa House are again considering shortchanging state universities. House Speaker Pat Grassley said in an interview last week he anticipates lawmakers telling the Regents universities: “… We will give you the money that you’ve requested, but it’s going to be in forms of scholarships for high-demand fields that are set up by the (Department of) Workforce Development.”

This Iowa ‘trifecta’ drops the ball with vets

In politics, having a “trifecta” in government is a good thing for a political party — until the trifecta’s inaction on some popular issue starts to haunt the party.

Iowa Republicans served up an example of the consequences of such inaction in the days leading up to Christmas. The example involves military veterans, a highly sought-after constituency that is part of any solid political movement.

In political lingo, the Republicans have had a trifecta in Iowa’s state government since 2017. That is when the party gained the majority in the Iowa Senate to go along with its majority in the Iowa House and having a Republican in the governor’s office.

A trifecta means the party usually has an easy time getting its policy priorities approved by lawmakers and signed into law by the governor — Republican priorities like big tax cuts. It means the party’s control of those three key elements of the government generally can stop legislative action on proposals its members oppose — such as the Democrats’ efforts to improve water quality across Iowa.

But there is a downside to having that firm grip on state government. We are seeing that this winter, since the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund ran out of money and had to stop providing financial aid to lower income veterans and their families.

The news has uncorked plenty of dusty memories

It is amazing what takes up room in our memory.

Yes, our basement can accommodate stacks of storage bins and shelves lined with boxes filled with what we politely assure our spouse is “important stuff” from our life. Our memory is no larger than our head, but long-forgotten details are tucked away there amid the cobwebs.

Those details are brought back to life by the unlikeliest of events. For me, one of those occurrences was the launch and then the landing of the Artemis 1 spacecraft a few weeks ago.

Pass the gravy, pretty please

It’s that time of year again. Another twelve months have gone by, and Crazy Uncle Frank once again brought his friend Captain Morgan with him to Christmas dinner, hidden in his jacket pocket.

After a few surreptitiously spiked egg nogs, Frank gets a little mean and starts talking smack about his favorite whipping boy, conservation compliance.

First, a little primer on conservation compliance.

According to USDA (1), The 1985 Farm Bill “requires producers participating in most programs administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to abide by certain conditions on any land owned or farmed that is highly erodible or that is considered a wetland.”

Of course, one of those programs is taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance.

On average, federal taxpayers pay 62 percent of the cost of farmers’ crop insurance premiums. Again, on average, for every $1 a farmer spends on crop insurance, he/she gets back $2.23 (2).

If not careful, we could fall on this slippery slope

Few people like being told what they must do. Lorie Smith is one of them.

The suburban Denver, Colo., business owner, a devout Christian, builds websites for customers. She wants to expand her business and begin building websites for couples who are planning weddings.

But she is adamant that she does not want to be forced to build websites for same-sex couples. Doing so, she says, would violate her faith, which does not allow her to celebrate same-sex marriages.

Iowa D’s shouldn’t lose sight of what's important

Judging from the furrowed brows and dire predictions in Iowa, you might have thought a national Democratic Party committee had voted to eliminate motherhood and apple pie last week.

Actually, what the committee eliminated were Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Democratic precinct caucuses — a quirky, though coveted, kick-off role for Iowa Democrats in the party’s presidential nomination process every four years since 1972.

After the fiasco in the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses, when tabulating and reporting glitches left the outcome in doubt for several weeks, the decision on Friday was as much of a surprise as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ landslide re-election victory.

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