Randy Evans's blog

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?

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.

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.

Rural Iowa should brace for school ‘vouchers’

It won’t be long before empty parking spaces near the Iowa Capitol will be as hard to find as a compromise between Democrats and Republicans.

The Legislature returns to Des Moines on Jan. 9, more firmly in Republican control than it was on May 24, when this year’s session ended.

With their strong showing in the election this month, Republicans can be expected to pick up where they left off six months ago. For people living in rural Iowa, one issue of deep concern on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ to-do list is creation of taxpayer-financed vouchers to help parents pay for tuition to private K-12 schools.

Could another Mamie Till bring gun change?

Mamie Till came along at the right time in American history.

During the 1950s, in an era when many Americans were blind to the grotesque toll of racial hatred, this courageous Illinois mother stepped forward and opened America’s eyes.

What people saw outraged them — the mutilated body of her 14-year-old son, Emmett, lying in an open casket. His horribly disfigured face bore little resemblance to anything human. An ear was severed. An eye was missing. His teeth were gone. He had been wrapped with barbed wire, and his head was swollen like a deformed pumpkin.

Hey, politicians, are loan bailouts good or bad?

I try to stay atop the day’s news. But I must have dozed off last week — because I missed the response from Iowa Republican leaders to the Biden administration’s announcement of $1.3 billion in debt relief to 36,000 farmers who have fallen behind on their farm loan payments.

In making the announcement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Through no fault of their own, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years. The funding included in today’s announcement helps keep our farmers farming and provides a fresh start for producers in challenging positions.”

I am not here to question the wisdom of the federal assistance. But the silence from Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst is markedly different from their criticism after President Biden announced in August that the government would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for most borrowers.

Secrecy isn’t how you build trust and respect

Middle ground is not something that often is seen nowadays in Iowa government or our politics.

These days, candidates, elected officials and community members often are seen as flawed if they speak in favor of the middle ground.

Case in point: Too many people have staked out extreme positions on one of the most important topics, law enforcement. They either take up the nonsensical “defund the police” rally cry, or they make the opposite, but equally flawed, demand to support police without regard for any shortcomings in officers’ actions or practices.

Those thoughts were bouncing around in my cranium last week when I read a new lawsuit that was filed against the city of Des Moines by local attorney, who in retirement has become a voice of reason in the fractious discussions over the actions by law officers in Iowa.

‘Why’ questions permeate 2 care center deaths

There was a news update over the weekend about two elderly Iowans who wandered away from different care centers last winter and froze to death.

There is no question the deaths were horrible tragedies. There is no question they resulted from carelessness and a needless lack of attention by employees of the centers.

There are important questions that need to be asked, though. Why was one death a regrettable accident but the other death was a crime? And why, if Iowa treats the one death as a crime, is the blame not shared by others who could have stepped in and prevented the death?


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