The 2014 Legislative Session started this week and House Democrats are ready to work together and strengthen Iowa’s middle class this year.
Building a strong middle class starts with education and it matches our great history of excellence in education. The covered wagons were barely unloaded and the sod barely plowed when Iowans established country schools so their children could learn. It was just fifty-nine days after Iowa became a state that we established our first state university, and private colleges sprang up among the many religious communities that settled here.
Today, our children need to know how to make machines and other products and to deliver services. At the same time, they need an education that allows them to ask “why” as well as “how.”
Personally, I think it should be Iowa’s long-term goal to change our K-12 system to a Pre-K/14 system, where we guarantee first-rate pre-school opportunities for every child, and we guarantee two years of additional training and study for every high school graduate.
After graduation, we know that 50% of Iowa jobs require more training than a high school diploma, yet only about 33% of Iowans have certification beyond a high school diploma. This skilled worker shortage is by far the biggest challenge facing our economy today.
We need to make sure Iowa students have opportunities for the higher training better-paying jobs demand. Integrating a system of training beyond high school—involving community colleges, apprenticeship programs, and other job trainings is a must for Iowa to compete in a global economy. It also means making higher education more affordable, which is why we should freeze tuition at state universities.
Good jobs mean economic security for middle class families. They allow workers to take pride in what they accomplish while giving them the time, health, and ability to be part of vibrant communities. Today, many Iowa parents are working one or two low-wage jobs trying to put food on the table and pay the bills.
We owe it to Iowans to raise that minimum wage, perhaps a dollar an hour now and more in the future. Our experience in Iowa has shown that raising the minimum wage has little effect on businesses, but gives working Iowans hope of a better future.
And while we are grateful that Iowa’s rate of unemployment is far below the national average, we need to do more to offer employment opportunities to minorities whose rate of unemployment is higher than the national average.
I am reminded that when government comes collecting taxes, there is not a question about where Iowans live. However, when it comes to service delivery, too often government says “you are not living in the right area.” We need to pay more attention to the needs of rural Iowa, where easy access to broadband and Wi-Fi and even emergency medical services is not the norm.
House Democrats are ready to get to work for the people of Iowa. We look forward to a session of collaboration, mutual respect, and progress for Iowans.