- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Dec. 22, 2014.

Body cameras could help in protecting all involved

The Waterloo Police Department, like many departments across the nation, is looking for ways to fund purchases of body-worn cameras for its officers. Recently, the department brought up the possibility of a gaming grant.

City Council members responded by voting unanimously last week to approve an application to the Black Hawk County Gaming Association for $50,000, which would be matched by $25,000 in city funds.

However they are ultimately funded, we believe equipping local officers with the cameras is a prudent step.

They are becoming increasingly necessary to make more clear-cut determinations in difficult-to-decipher and sensitive situations. They could help protect citizens from misconduct. They can also protect our police officers from false claims. In many cases they will present an unbiased report - avoiding reliance on widely varying statements from witnesses who may or may not have their own agendas.

Body cameras are already widely used in some of the nation’s highly populated cities, including Chicago and New York.

In Rialto, Calif., a pilot program for body cameras was conducted between 2012 and 2013. The report on that program found complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

Rialto is a community with a population slightly less than the combined Waterloo-Cedar Falls area.

Those kinds of numbers suggest all parties involved might be a little more self-aware when they know they are being recorded. You may be apt to get clearer stories from others at the scene as well.

During last week’s meeting, Councilman Steve Schmitt questioned whether it might be prudent to wait and see if the federal government steps up with funding to buy the cameras.

But Mayor Buck Clark, a retired police officer, said it could be years before such funding is available.

“The community wants the cameras today,” he said. “I think we should do everything to provide them.”

Considering today’s realities, we agree we shouldn’t wait on something the federal government might do.

The BHCGA holds the license for the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo and receives 5.75 percent of its gross revenue for grants to public and nonprofit projects in the region. Grants are awarded in a competitive application process.

We believe such a grant could be of high value to the community. It’s a request we hope the BHCGA will give serious consideration.

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Telegraph Herald. Dec. 21, 2014.

Legislature should help keep more students in Iowa

There are a couple of ways to look at a proposed change in how Iowa’s three regent universities are funded.

A revamped formula adopted by the Iowa Board of Regents this summer would tie public funding for the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University to in-state student enrollment.

That, local officials believe, poses a threat to smaller colleges like those in Dubuque. Officials from the city of Dubuque and area colleges say an unintended consequence of the change could be a dip in enrollment at community colleges and private colleges.

While that’s a concern lawmakers must be cognizant of as they vote on the proposed change in the next session of the Iowa Legislature, from a typical taxpayer standpoint, this seems like a good thing. Competition generally is.

The Board of Regents is telling Iowa’s state universities that as they spend Iowa tax dollars at those institutions, they should be more energetic in recruiting Iowa students. That sentiment should appeal to Iowa taxpayers.

Drawing lots of in-state students hasn’t been an issue at Iowa State or the University of Northern Iowa, but it will mean a different approach to recruiting at the University of Iowa. All three schools should be working hard to get young Iowans to enroll. That doesn’t necessarily mean all those new students will be poached from Iowa private schools and community colleges. University of Iowa recruiters should be going after the students that travel out of state to school, in search of something more prestigious or with a different learning environment. They should be touting the top-tier programming Iowa has to offer and trying to keep some of those students in the state.

Increasing the number of students at Iowa colleges is critical to building Iowa’s work force. The connections students make in college and the opportunities they are exposed to make the transition to working in Iowa a natural one. Addressing the work force shortage is a key goal for lawmakers, so they must look carefully at the educational incentives to keep Iowa students in Iowa colleges. While the regents’ plan could be part of that, lawmakers also should give private schools and community colleges a boost by expanding the Iowa Tuition Grant program. This gives financially eligible Iowa students a grant to be used at any higher education institution, and schools match those grants with their own financial aid.

The big regents schools won’t be the right fit for every student. Some students will thrive in a smaller college setting. And with the high cost of higher education, finding the right fit is key to a good return on investment. That’s a decision for parents and students to make - just as parents and students need to consider whether a four-year institution is the right choice or whether a student should explore skilled labor fields at a community college. If the Legislature makes regents institutions more palatable to Iowa students and expands the Iowa Tuition Grant program, that could really bolster the educational opportunities in the state while leaving college choice decisions to the consumers.

The state sees about 16,000 college-bound high schoolers graduate every year. The goal should be to get more of those students to stay in Iowa - wherever they choose to go.

The plan will work best if it is connected to a boost for the private schools and community colleges by expanding the Iowa Tuition Grant program or other scholarship mechanisms. Community colleges and private schools play a pivotal role in the state’s education picture and in work force development, and state government should support those institutions. But the state invests more than half a billion dollars in the regents schools. Given that kind of taxpayer investment, regent schools should be rolling out the red carpet to Iowa students.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen. Dec. 19, 2014.

School calendars not one-size-fits-all

Officials must take into account numerous factors when building a school district’s calendar: state law, weather, holidays, testing dates, staff training - the list goes on and on. The demands are mind-boggling, and not all factors are the same for every district.

However, for the 2014-15 school year, all but two of the state’s 338 public districts thought it in their students’ best interest to obtain a waiver allowing them to start classes before the week of Sept. 1, the date set by Iowa law.

The state Department of Education has routinely granted these waivers in the past, but in a letter sent last week to school leaders, the department said - effective immediately - earlier start dates will only be considered if a district shows that starting later will have a “significant negative educational impact.” Department officials are working on criteria, expected to be ready in January, for determining what exactly constitutes a significant impact.

The department announced the change the same day it received a letter from Gov. Terry Branstad requesting the change. Branstad said starting earlier “unnecessarily interferes with families’ summer plans and seasonal hiring while it does nothing to improve the quality of education.”

Branstad noted in his letter that legislation passed earlier this year gives districts the option to choose between 180 days or 1,080 hours of instruction for the school year and that added flexibility was part of the reason he wanted the department to stop automatically granting waivers.

At a time when districts are examining the possibilities of year-round schools, four-day school weeks and other creative curriculum options for their students, we would prefer that the state allow local districts to determine the calendar that works best for their students, staff and communities, rather than tie them to a one-size-fits-all calendar set by the state.

So we urge our state legislators to change the law. In approving legislation this year that gives districts another option for how to count instruction time, our leaders recognized the need to allow for more room to try new ways to educate our students and prepare them for a 21st-century world. We think it makes sense to extend that flexibility to deciding when to schedule that instruction time.

In the meantime, we hope the state will continue to grant waivers when school districts request them based on local needs and calendars because school calendars are not one-size-fits-all. What works for students in Des Moines may not work for students in Solon. What works for students in Council Bluffs may not work for students in Iowa City. School officials across the state in the past week cited a number of factors that affect when they start school, including:

- Aligning schedules with local colleges. Iowa City and Solon officials have said a later start could affect students who plan to dual enroll at the University of Iowa or the Kirkwood Regional Center.

- Scheduling exams before winter break.

- Taking weather into account. This could include assessing factors such as how many schools have air conditioning to deal with late-summer heat and the frequency of needing to cancel school because of winter weather, which could vary depending on how many students are being bused, how far they are being bused and on what types of roads the buses take.

- Taking into account community preference.

- Allowing teachers to take summer college courses, which may begin in May.

- Scheduling days off for holidays. Some holidays are more important to some communities, while others are less so. We saw this firsthand this past year when the Iowa City Community School District scheduled school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After many in the community expressed their dismay, the holiday once again will be a day off next year for local students.

- Taking into account fall sports, which usually start in August and have their schedules set far in advance by the Iowa High School Athletic Association. Some school officials say they worry about having to pull student-athletes onto campus three or four weeks before classes begin.

We understand the importance of time for learning outside the classroom, of summer jobs, of vacations and family time, and of time-honored traditions such as the Iowa State Fair. But we think our school districts understand their community’s students’ needs best and should be allowed to build a school calendar that reflects those local needs.

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Quad-City Times. Dec. 20, 2014.

GOP should heed Branstad

Apparently, Gov. Branstad’s sound advice isn’t good enough. Iowa GOP state chairman Jeff Kaufmann says he’s waiting to hear from Republican National Committee Chairman Rance Priebus to determine if Iowa Republicans will hold another presidential candidate straw poll.

Last week, Branstad cautioned against the phony vote. The governor, like us and many Iowans, isn’t a fan of the GOP fundraising tactic that awards votes and candidate display space in return for cash. Branstad, like us and many Iowans, discounts the value of a bought-and-paid- for straw poll.

We love the governor’s suggestion for a big party-sponsored event to feature all interested candidates. But drop the vote-buying part of it.

Kaufmann told reporters he’s prepared to skip the vote if Priebus believes it might have “any impact at all” on the caucuses. We’re here to affirm the straw poll has every impact on the Republican caucus, awarding frontrunner status to those who hustle up quick contributions, while dismissing prospective candidates who choose other tactics to reach Iowa voters.

The vote also perpetuates the impression - not altogether incorrect - that Iowa politicians leverage caucus candidates for contributions and favors.

No need to wait for a nod from the GOP’s top boss. Listen to the governor. Scrap the vote and let Iowa voters - and the nation - know the caucuses are much more than a cash grab.

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