March 30, 2018
Senate Begins Work on New Voucher Plan
Senate Begins Work on New Voucher Plan
The Iowa Senate has begun work on a new bill that would shift hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools.
The bill creates a new voucher program that would give $4,000 in state tax dollars for students to use at private schools. When fully implemented, the total cost of the voucher bill would be over $250 million annually.
Many lawmakers are opposed to the bill and believe that public money should be used for public schools. According to a recent Iowa Poll, 65% of Iowans do not want public funds to go to private education.
In Iowa, 92% of students attend public schools and current state funding for public schools is well below the national average. The state already provides $52 million for students who attend non-public schools.
Senate Study Bill 3206 is currently being considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Budget Cuts Signed into Law; Questions Remain at State House
As Governor Reynolds signed $35 million of budget cuts in to law this week, it is looking more and more likely that lawmakers will be working overtime to close out the 2018 legislative session.
Since the budget has been in deficit for two years in a row, one of the major hold ups is Republican leaders at the Statehouse trying to balance next year’s state budget while paying back the $144 million in debt they had to borrow last year.
The impact of the latest round of budget cuts will be felt hardest by Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens as well as students at community colleges and state universities. Lawmakers knew the cuts would be needed since last fall, but waited until the final months of the state’s fiscal year to approve them. If the same timeline is used for crafting the state’s budget for the upcoming year is any indication, Iowans who depend on vital services could be left in limbo in the coming months.
Hard working Iowans who craft a budget every month for their family know and expect lawmakers to use the same principles that they do every month. So far Republican lawmakers have failed to live up to the expectations of Iowans, by running the state’s budget on a credit card and putting corporate tax cuts before everyday Iowans.
Bill Attempts to Improve School Security
The House has agreed with the Senate language addressing school security plans, and the bill has been sent to the Governor. Under the legislation public and non-public schools would have to develop emergency operations plans no later than June 30, 2019 and update it annually. It will include response to active shooter training.
The Senate had revised the House version that passed the House last week to have the board and authorities of a private school determine which school personnel participate in the drill. In addition they eliminated the requirement that the plan, including equipment used for the drill, be approved by the school board or local private school authorities before implementation.
School Security Tip Line Not Added to the Bill
When the bill passed the House the first time, an amendment was offered to create a school security tip line, but it was not adopted. Other states across the country have developed anonymous tip lines in response to school shootings that allow people to report people threating or acting dangerously to authorities. They have worked to prevent cases where attacks on schools could have happened.
According to Colorado authorities, the number of tips submitted in Colorado have increased dramatically over the past decade with 300 reports in the last year involving planned school attacks. In addition, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would help fund these types of tip lines for states.
Trade War Could Devastate Iowa’s Ag Economy
Iowans are deeply concerned about a looming trade war that could impact Iowa pork, soybeans, ethanol, and other agricultural exports.
The President’s decision to impose $60 billion in tariffs caused the Chinese to in turn announced tariffs on American goods, including a 25% tariff on pork and higher tariffs on ethanol and soybeans. Iowa is the number one in pork production, number one in production of ethanol and number two in soybean production.
After the tariff was announced, pork prices dropped about $6 per market-weight pig, potentially costing Iowa pork producers $240 million. And the damage is likely to grow because China is the second largest market of U.S. pork in the world at $1.1 billion in U.S. Pork last year.
The export of a variety meats are of particular concern to Iowa producers. These meats, like intestines, the head and tails, are not consumed much in the United States but are in demand in China. China takes about 1/3 of U.S. Pork variety meat, resulting in significant value added to Iowa pigs and as a result Iowa pork producers and rural Iowa. Variety meats that may sell for 5 cents in the U.S. will go for 20 cents in the Chinese market, a significant value addition.
The biggest agricultural export from the United States to China is soybeans and Iowa is the second largest producer of soybeans in the country. Soybeans have been rumored to be the target of Chinese tariffs moving forward and would deal another blow to rural Iowa.
China is also proposing adding 15% to the existing 30% tariff on ethanol. Iowa is the nation’s leader in ethanol production, shipping out 4.2 billion gallons of ethanol last year. The impact of the additional tariff on ethanol would also significantly drive down corn prices since 53% of Iowa’s corn production goes to ethanol production.
Deadliest Flu Season Subsiding in Iowa
Since the beginning of March, flu activity has decreased in both Iowa and the United States. The percentage of positive influenza tests have dropped from 32% in January to 25% this month. The peak of the flu season was January and February of this year.
The main flu strain was AH3N2, and this particular strain usually came on suddenly and typically lasted two to seven days. Symptoms included headache, fever, sore throat, congestion and body aches. There have been 235 flu-related mortalities and about 1700 flu-related hospitalizations from October 1, 2017 to March 17, 2018. This compares to 101 flu-related mortalities during the same time period last year.
Though flu activity has decreased, it is important to still protect yourself. Receiving the flu vaccination, washing your hands, staying home when sick and covering your cough can all prevent the spread of this virus.
For more information regarding the flu, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/.
Online Learning Could Be Greatly Expanded
Online learning could drastically expand, as all of Iowa’s 333 school districts would be allowed to have an online program under legislation passed by the House. Nationally and within Iowa, student achievement results from on-line courses drastically lag regular classroom taught classes.
Particularly, results from Michigan and Colorado have shown school performance measures that show virtual online classes are less successful than traditional classes. In Iowa, there are two online schools, CAM and Clayton Ridge, and the number of students that returned to those schools after the previous year remains very troubling. Of these schools, CAM only had 60.5% return of students from the previous year, while Clayton Ridge had only 51.3% return. Full results from the Iowa programs can be found at the Report of Virtual Schools:
Currently, school funding including property taxes follows a student to an online school if a student open enrolls to that district. Most of that funding is then sent to one of the online, out-of-state private companies that run the programs for CAM and Clayton Ridge.
Besides the drain of public school funding, opponents of the bill argued advertising and promotion campaigns will be used and drain resources that should be spent on education kids. Parents could also be caught in the middle as local school districts vie for kids to open enroll to their online program with advertising and promotions. Nothing in current law or the bill prevents advertising or promotion by school districts for students to open enroll to another district.
After passing the Senate last year, the bill has now passed the House late in the Session. The bill now goes back to the Senate for consideration.
Urban Trout Stocking Schedule
Every year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks trout in several urban lakes across the state. During the months of March and April, the DNR will release 1,000 to 2,000 rainbow trout to bring fishing to the urban parts of the state. Many times, Iowans are not able to travel to lakes in northeast Iowa to fish for trout, so this program brings the trout to them.
In order to fish in these stocked lakes, a valid fishing permit and a trout fee are needed and there is a daily catch limit of five trout per licensed angler.
Below are the dates, times, and lakes the DNR will be stocking:
March 30th 11 a.m.: Terry Trueblood Lake, Iowa City 12 p.m.: Ottumwa Park Pond, Ottumwa March 31st 10 a.m.: Prairie Park (Cedar Bend), Cedar Rapids April 7th 11 a.m.: Banner Lake (South) at Summerset State Park, north of Indianola April 14th 10 a.m.: Heritage Pond, north of Dubuque 11 a.m.: North Prairie Lake, Cedar Falls April 21st 11 a.m.: Sand Lake, Marshalltown
For more information on trout stocking go to: http://www.iowadnr.gov/Fishing/Trout-Fishing.
Winter Energy Bill Assistance Ends April 1
With the winter season coming to an end, some Iowans who are experiencing hardships may have their utilities shut off as the Iowa's winter moratorium law ends April 1. The moratorium protects eligible Iowans who are certified under the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or Weatherization Program from disconnection of electric or natural gas service.
Energy customers that may be subject to service disconnection should contact their local utility before April 1 to discuss payment options or arrange for a payment agreement to avoid potential service disconnection. The LIHEAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program is federally funded and administered in Iowa by the Department of Human Rights’ Community Action Agencies. Eligibility for both programs is based on household size and income.
Information on how to apply for assistance next year can be found on the Division of Community Action Agencies web site at https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa.