- Associated Press - Monday, March 5, 2018

Des Moines Register. March 1, 2018

End pay bumps for Iowa teachers with master’s degrees

A state board has accused two Keokuk middle school teachers of cheating to earn one of them a master’s degree, which she used to secure a pay increase.

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners is asking Ehren Wills and Kay Slusher to surrender their teaching licenses. Wills submitted Slusher’s work to earn a degree through an online school, according to the board. Both teachers are accused of numerous violations.

Such cheating by teachers, if true, is obviously galling and ironic.

The story also raises questions about the quality of a program offered by Missouri-based Hannibal LaGrange University, which allows someone to earn a master’s degree completely online. Wills enrolled for 11 months. A year’s tuition is $20,000.

A Google search finds numerous opportunities for teachers to earn master’s degrees completely online. When a teacher automatically receive a pay increase for earning a degree, online schools have no shortage of customers. In Keokuk, that degree can earn a teacher an additional $7,000 annually after 12 years of service.

What do Iowa schools think they are paying for?

Studies have found the additional degree has little to no effect on student achievement. Education experts know this.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education under former President Obama, came under fire after suggesting teachers should be compensated based on effectiveness rather than “paper credentials.”

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, has argued against the automatic pay increases, noting during a meeting with Register writers a few years ago there is “no correlation between having a master’s degree and better outcomes.”

Public dollars may pay for graduate courses and then higher salaries, she said. Those teachers are not more effective in a classroom. They are simply better compensated. The only exception, Rhee said, was for secondary math and science teachers where “content mastery” in a specific subject does make a difference.

Lawmakers debate a school aid bill Thursday, Feb. 1,Buy Photo

Lawmakers debate a school aid bill Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in the Iowa Senate Education Committee. (Photo: William Petroski/Des Moines Register)

Bill Gates, who has been an education-focused philanthropist for two decades and plans to invest $1.7 billion in public education over the next five years, has been critical of automatic pay increases for master’s degrees.

“My own state of Washington has an average salary bump of nearly $11,000 for a master’s degree - and more than half of our teachers get it,” he told school officials in 2010. “That’s more than $300 million every year that doesn’t help kids. And that’s just one state. As a country, we spend $9 billion a year for master’s degrees.”

In Iowa, nearly 35 percent of teachers hold these additional degrees, according to data compiled by the Iowa Department of Education. Iowa school districts pay these teachers more.

With little to no evidence the degrees improve education for students, the additional compensation is a waste of public money. And Iowa schools don’t have any money to waste.


Sioux City Journal. March 1, 2018

Board takes right step on guns in Woodbury County Courthouse

At least for today, the madness surrounding guns in the Woodbury County Courthouse is over.

In our view, Supervisors Rocky De Witt, Jeremy Taylor and Marty Pottebaum made the right decision at the board’s Feb. 20 meeting when they voted to reinstate a ban on weapons throughout the courthouse. We scratch our heads at why Supervisors Matthew Ung and Keith Radig didn’t join them.

Faced with either an inability to enforce a new policy of guns in some parts of the courthouse but not in others or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide the security necessary to properly enforce it, De Witt, Taylor and Pottebaum acted prudently and returned to the old policy. The original policy of no guns in the courthouse was implemented in 2014, but it was thrown into question last year when the Legislature passed an expansion of gun rights.

As we predicted, the package of gun-related measures had a chilling impact in Woodbury County.

In June, the Board of Supervisors rescinded the courthouse gun ban in response to the bill. Complicating matters further was an Iowa Supreme Court order in June banning weapons in “courtrooms, court-controlled spaces, and public areas of courthouses and other justice centers occupied by the court system.” In December, the state Supreme Court issued a revision to the order under which local officials can make a written request to allow guns in areas of courthouses not controlled by the judicial system. In response, the county board in January voted to send a letter to Third Judicial District Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer requesting the public be allowed to carry guns into some areas of the courthouse. Then, finally, Sheriff Dave Drew last month presented the supervisors with an expensive projection of costs for security under the new plan.

Absurd is how we describe the excessive amount of time and discussion county leaders have devoted to this issue over the last eight months.

As we have said before, for the protection of those who work inside the building and for the public who conducts business there, we believe the Woodbury County Courthouse - all of the Woodbury County Courthouse - should be free of guns. No one besides law enforcement officers should be allowed to carry a gun inside a courthouse. It isn’t some egregious infringement of the Second Amendment to ask owners of guns to check weapons at the door to a courthouse, do their business inside, then pick them up on their way out.

What do we wish to see happen next in the wake of last week’s Woodbury County board decision?

In the name of public safety and local control and to clear up whatever confusion and uncertainty its 2017 gun legislation created for cities and counties, lawmakers should make clear government bodies have the legal right under Iowa law to adopt a ban on weapons in public buildings, like the one in place for the Woodbury County Courthouse.


Quad-City Times. March 2, 2018

Iowa Senate went off the rails

The utter failings of one-party control were on display Wednesday night in Iowa Senate. And, like a good Republican soldier, Sen. Roby Smith did as he was told.

In two truly shameful party-line votes, Iowa’s GOP-run Senate abandoned any oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and then, hours later, made an orphan of reason and fiscal responsibility.

Wednesday night’s tragic double-feature began with Senate File 2281, lovingly dubbed by its defenders as “the heartbeat bill.” In actuality, it’s an unconstitutional attempt to criminalize most abortions in Iowa.

Under the heartbeat bill, any physician who performs an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected would be subject to criminal charges. In practice, it means all abortions must be performed within the first six weeks of pregnancy, well before many women know they’re pregnant, experts said. The cruel lording over women’s bodies and sexuality didn’t end there. No, lawmakers didn’t even exempt instances of rape or incest. Only a mother’s life could justify an abortion after the state-imposed deadline, should this sham become law.

Detractors, supporters and analysts alike admit the heartbeat bill violates the U.S. Constitution. In fact, that’s the whole point and, on its own, a viable basis for righteous outrage.

Of course, conservatives held their noses in 2016 and voted for President Donald Trump precisely for a moment such as this. Stock the courts, they said. Kill Roe v. Wade, they screamed. Do so even if it costs Iowa’s premier medical school its gynecological accreditation, they urged. The intentional destruction of constitutional rights, and an appearance in U.S. Supreme Court, is the play here. Nothing else, no matter how pragmatic, can get in the way.

And so, typically reasonable and reserved Iowa - at least its Senate - has decided to hop on that train with Deep South culture warriors, even if it means stomping on the rights of half the state.

And the cult-like devotion to dogma over sense or reason didn’t end there.

Hours later, the Senate then passed an inexcusably irresponsible tax overhaul that, in every practical term, would bankrupt the state.

The Legislature’s own research division said SF 2383 would bleed more than $200 million from state coffers this coming fiscal year. That number would jump to more than $1 billion when it’s fully enacted in a state with a $7 billion budget.

Consider that - the bill the Iowa Senate passed would annually slash 14 percent of state revenue once fully implemented. And, as if Iowa didn’t already dole out enough gifts to multinationals and well-heeled, that’s where the bulk of tax cuts would end up.

Wednesday’s tax bill vote was a clear statement of priorities for the GOP Senate majority: School funding, Medicaid nor mental health really matter. The tax bill’s sponsor, Sen. Randy Feenstra, couldn’t even say how that $200 million hole would get plugged, as if the state isn’t already axing services to make up for shortfalls.

The very erosion of government - and the necessary services it provides - trumps all else. Any claim from GOP senators to the contrary is a flat-out falsehood. The tax bill vote was a particularly curious move from Sen. Smith. He’s spent a full year fighting for funding equity for Davenport Community School. And then he votes for a package that would all but guarantee the movement’s demise.

Ultimately, it’s the average Iowan who was targeted Wednesday night by state Senate Republicans. These senators make lofty commitments about rights and freedom and then vote to take them away. They say they care about health care and, just like last year, vote to limits a woman’s access to it. They claim to be committed to funding schools and hand out an annual increase well below inflation. They pledge fiscal responsibility and than ram through - before anyone can fully understand the issue - tax policy that would render the state unable to function.

Both bills should die a loud, unceremonious death in the House, where lawmakers are instead riffing on Gov. Kim Reynolds’s substantially less insane tax proposal. Reynolds should finally show some leadership and, at the very least, lambaste the complete and utter fiscal irresponsibility that senators called tax reform.

Iowa’s Republican Senate majority laid bare its true priorities. And neither the U.S. Constitution nor good fiscal sense could to get in the way.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls courier. February 28, 2018

Exhibit celebrates Bosnian culture

Waterloo’s Bosnian population, which began arriving in the 1990s, is now firmly entrenched in the Cedar Valley. Since then, the contributions to the community have been plentiful.

A full generation after the initial influx, the Bosnian community has been a major force in the rejuvenation of some of Waterloo’s older neighborhoods. It has had significant impacts on business, schools, entertainment, government and other facets of life.

So, we look forward to the opening of the “Bosnian Portraits: At Home in the Cedar Valley” exhibit at the Grout Museum in Waterloo. While the Bosnian heritage in Waterloo is now part of the fabric of the Cedar Valley, we should never forget why.

Genocidal civil war engulfed the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thousands of refugees had to flee their war-torn homeland. Waterloo became one of the designated landing spots for refugees.

“It’s been, for most of us, 20 years since we’ve lived in the Cedar Valley now. And it’s the first time for people to open up and share those stories,” said former state Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic. “It’s so nice of the museum to be willing to do this. This is about experiences of coming here, and what that was like and about the community.”

And the more those stories are told, we would hope, the more understanding there will be.

The exhibit at the Grout is being created in partnership with the University of Northern Iowa Center for Holocaust & Genocide Education and the Bosnian-American Leadership Network of the Cedar Valley. It runs from March 6 through Sept. 29. A planning committee of Bosnian residents and museum staff has been gathering artwork, artifacts and oral histories from the Bosnian community for the exhibit.

“It’s interesting to see how this community dealt with and bonded with this huge experience they shared and how everyone came together,” said Grout exhibits curator Erin Dawson. “You hear terrible stories about how someone had lost a part of their family. You can’t imagine this. Being able to get these people to share their stories is so important.”

Over the years, the political career of Kajtazovic helped draw attention to the story of local Bosnians. So did the talent of artist Paco Rosic, whose spray paint art has drawn national attention, especially his stunning version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, which graces the ceiling of Galleria de Paco Restaurant in Waterloo.

The Bosnian presence in Waterloo is now commonplace, but we all still need to remember the genesis of that migration here. That includes those of us in the Cedar Valley, as well as those across the globe. This upcoming exhibit will provide some of that locally.

“I just love the idea, and I’m very passionate about it and want it to succeed,” said Nerma Miskic, who is working on the project. “It was an opportunity to say thank you to our parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents for all they have done to give us a better life, or a chance at a better life. Also, it’s to show gratitude and appreciation to those who actually believed in the Bosnian community and the way they kind of reached out and gave a helping hand.”

“Bosnian Portraits: At Home in the Cedar Valley” can be another reminder of us how our Bosnian population got started here. We all need to remember the depth of the atrocities they faced.

We thank those from the Grout District for making this possible, as well as all of those involved in preparing this exhibit. We encourage all from the Cedar Valley to consider a visit to learn more.


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