- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

Des Moines Register. April 17, 2017

Iowa lawmakers are pulling the plug on a state-required summer reading program for illiterate third-graders - before it has been implemented. They cite a shortage of state funding and questions about the initiative’s effectiveness. Since there will be no program, struggling students will not be required to complete it before advancing to fourth grade.

If lawmakers are ditching this effort to improve early literacy, they should offer an alternative to replace it.

After all, it was the Iowa Legislature that added the reading requirements to state law only a few years ago as part of Gov. Terry Branstad’s quest to create “world-class schools” in Iowa. It is difficult to be a global education leader when 25 percent of third-graders cannot read at grade level.

The governor knows this. That’s why his 2011 blueprint for education reform specifically advocated ending “social promotion for third-graders who read poorly.” Advancing children through school who are unable to read “puts them at a huge disadvantage for the rest of their lives.”

Yet the final law was weak, allowing many students to be exempted from participating in a summer program and allowing schools to continue promoting to fourth grade those who did not make progress. Then lawmakers delayed implementation of the whole thing, refused to fund it and are now abandoning it.

While a lack of funding is no excuse to pull the plug on the summer reading program, there are concerns about whether it is effective. The governor drummed up money to pay for a pilot program and study last year that recruited students from dozens of school districts across the state. None of the approaches significantly improved reading proficiency, according to an analysis from the Iowa Reading Research Center. The challenges included a lack of qualified, experienced teachers and low student participation rates.

Public dollars should not be spent on efforts that do not work, but it is up to state officials to figure out what does. And policymakers should not altogether abandon the idea of holding back third graders who cannot read.

Though opponents of mandatory retention are concerned about damaging a child’s self-esteem, it’s hard to imagine anything more damaging to self-esteem in the long run than being illiterate. Fear of repeating a grade may prompt families to take more seriously the importance of early reading skills, because those must be cultivated at home. Parents can buy books instead of video games, visit libraries and read with children instead of watching television.

A solid majority of Iowans, nearly 70 percent, believe third-graders with significant reading deficiencies should be required to repeat the grade, according to a 2016 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. People understand reading is the foundation for all learning and must be mastered to move forward in education.

Iowa cannot ignore what amounts to a literacy crisis in this state and simply allow students to move along through school. They will struggle with all subjects and be more likely to drop out altogether. If lawmakers abandon their own plan for improving reading skills, they must set forth and actually fund another one.


Quad City Times. April 18, 2017

Don’t let school equity bill rot

Up or down: Give it a vote.

Few cases of legislative inaction would be more craven than denying the school equity bill a floor vote in the Iowa House. Not a single member should leave Des Moines until going on record and owning their support - or lack thereof - for legislation that would end funding discrimination for hundreds of Iowa public schools.

The school equity bill is turning green in the Iowa House Appropriations Committee. It’s no surprise. Iowa’s GOP-run government faces mounting revenue shortfalls, self-imposed wounds resulting from years of tax cuts that disproportionately favor the well off.

Gov. Terry Branstad reacted by proposing deep cuts to important programs. Lawmakers responded Wednesday by driving the scalpel into bone. The Legislature’s draft budget is almost $39 million short of Branstad’s already draconian figure.

And so, Senate File 455, which would finally right the systematic classism in state school funding, sits there turning stale. It’s just as predicted by a slew of House members representing the Quad-Cities. It’s precisely the kind of gutlessness and commitment to ideological dogma that got Iowa into this mess in the first place.

Some House members blamed the state Senate, including Davenport Republican Roby Smith, for sending the 10-year, $204 million moral imperative to the House without a funding stream. Others said they support SF 455 in principle, but not in practice. Democrats have lampooned its 10-year roll-out, a recipe for repeal, they say.

Everyone’s looking for political cover. But thousands of students - in places like Davenport and Maquoketa - don’t care about the rhetoric and finger pointing. Their sole interest is equal treatment under the law, one that now values their education less than neighboring districts.

No doubt, there’s significant political motivation for letting SF 455 rot in Appropriations. There it could languish without action. There it could die without much notice. There it could sit and no House member would have to vote against basic fairness.

The legislative session is rocketing toward its scheduled April 18 end. Republicans, now in total control of Iowa, have wasted metric tons of oxygen on so-called “moral” issues. They’ve fast-tracked ideologically acceptable bills far more complicated than the school funding fix, such as the collective bargaining overhaul. And yet, they’d rather let student equity die on the vine out of political expedience.

On Sunday, Davenport Community School District Superintendent Art Tate called for an up-or-down vote in an op-ed. Tate, the man who’s put his career on the line for this cause, highlighted the widespread effects of 40-year-old policy that funds some schools around $170 more per-student than others.


Sioux City Journal. April 19, 2017

Legislature fails on school infrastructure tax

In what otherwise is a busy, productive legislative session, Iowa lawmakers this year have failed to address what should be the important priority of extending the one-cent school infrastructure sales tax.

With the session nearing an end, the need for extension of the school tax, which sunsets in 2029, appears to have been forgotten or ignored.

That’s disappointing.

As we have said before, we have an almost proprietary interest in this tax because Woodbury County was the first county in Iowa to approve a 10-year, local-option sales tax for public school infrastructure (the tax first passed in 1998; county voters approved a 10-year extension in 2005). The benefits of this tax speak for themselves in the form of school improvements across the state, but arguably no school district in Iowa has benefitted more from the tax than our local system. With revenue from the tax, the Sioux City school district has built new elementary schools, new middle schools, and three high school science wings, and a new Bryant Elementary School is under construction.

A variety of future infrastructure challenges remain for the local school district. For example, more elementary schools await replacement and by the time the tax sunsets, Sioux City’s high schools will be nearly 60 years old.

To plan and bond today for the critical infrastructure projects of tomorrow, the Sioux City school district and districts across Iowa need an end to uncertainty about the future of the school infrastructure tax.

The issue didn’t get the attention it deserved this year. As a result, we urge our local lawmakers to take the lead in pushing extension of the one-cent school infrastructure sales tax to passage during next year’s legislative session.


Burlington Hawk Eye. April 19, 2017

The power of the sun

In the heart of Western coal country, fair competition is taking a back seat to big money.

In Wyoming, fossil fuel companies are king and state lawmakers want to keep it that way. Coal production is first in the nation. The state also is fourth in natural gas production and ranks eighth in pumping crude oil.

As a consequence, other sources of energy represent a threat. The state fears sunshine shining down from above and winds blowing off the mountain ranges.

The GOP-controlled legislature has proposed a law to tax companies selling renewable energy.

SF0071 requires utility companies in the state to provide electricity to there customers from “eligible resources.” This includes coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear and oil. The bill requires electricity in the state be 100 percent derived from “qualified resources by 2019.

Any company doing otherwise would be fined $10 per megawatt.

“Wyoming is a great wind state and we produce a lot of wind energy. We also produce a lot of conventional energy, many times our needs,” Republican Rep. David Miller told InsideClimate News. “The electricity generated by coal is amongst the least expensive in the country. We want Wyoming residences to benefit from this inexpensive electrical generation. We do not want to be averaged into the other states that require a certain (percentage) of more expensive renewable energy.”

Miller is engaging in political double speak and his argument is illogical. The cost of alternative sources of energy now is comparable to the dirty energy of coal. When this new kind of energy is cheaper and less toxic, why should it be penalized to preserve black rock?

Yes, the party preaching against overregulation has no problem doing to for a buddy with deep pockets.

The solar and wind industry is taking business away from coal. Instead of letting market forces play out, the response is to punish the upstarts - not to mention the environment.

Fortunately, SF0071 never made it out of committee.

An ironic twist on that protectionism blew in from the original vortex of coal. In the hilly Appalachian town of Benham, Ky., is the Kentucky Coal Museum.

The town once was a coal camp whose population peaked at about 3,000. Today, 500 folks call the sleepy town home and the mines are but a memory. Only the storefront museum remains as a reminder.

The museum needed to lower its energy costs, and instead of lobbying politicians for help, it reached out to the power of the sun and installed solar panels on its roof.

“We believe this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone,” Brandon Robinson, communications director of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, which owns the museum, told a local radio station. “So it’s a very worthy effort and it’s going to save the college money in the long run.”

Who can afford not to save $10,000 a year? Certainly not coal advocates in Kentucky.

Their brethren in Wyoming should take notice. Fossil fuel represents the past. It’s dirty and emits air pollutants harmful to the environment and public health. Beyond that, the U.S. Department of Energy recently acknowledged industries related to renewable energy employ more workers than coal, oil and gas combined.

Efficiency and cleanliness represent the future. For the sake of humanity, it could not have come too soon.


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