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Iowa Legislature

Senator Bob Dvorsky On Education

Dvorsky ReportIowa is among the first states to create a teacher leadership system designed to boost student achievement, increase teaching expertise and raise the status of the teaching profession.

Research shows a correlation between a school’s ability to keep good teachers and student achievement. Iowa’s 2013 Education Reform initiative rewards effective teachers with more responsibility and higher pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive salaries and opportunities for advancement, and encourages greater collaboration among all educators.

Under the Teacher Leadership & Compensation System, 25 percent of teachers will take on new leadership roles—including serving as instructional coaches and mentors—to improve the classroom experience. Districts that apply to start teacher leadership systems must set goals, establish minimum teacher salaries, mentor new teachers and have a rigorous selection process for leadership roles.

Teacher leadership systems are being phased in over three years, with the goal of all Iowa school districts participating on a voluntary basis by 2016-17.

The Iowa Legislature approved $50 million for the first year of the program and $100 million for the second year. The third year will see a $150 million investment. Money for teacher leaders, however, was never intended to supplant other K-12 educational funding.
The Teacher Leadership & Compensation System and other targeted investments in STEM, building strong reading skills and providing more learning opportunities through online schools are great tools. However, they are not a replacement for basic school funding from the state. If we don’t provide adequate dollars to support the daily needs of our schools, they will have more students and less staff.

For example, one Iowa district will have to make about $300,000 in cuts with the minimal school funding approved for this fall. That will significantly diminish the impact of the $340,000 the district will receive in teacher leader grants.

We must provide a strong foundation for schools to build upon. That way, the teacher leadership program can effectively prepare our students for higher education, worker training and good jobs in a competitive global economy.

Our local school districts selected for the teacher leader program include:

School District    Starting In
Iowa City – 2015-16
North Cedar – 2015-16
Solon – 2015-16
West Branch – 2015-16
Wilton – 2015-16
Bennett – 2016-17
Durant – 2016-17
Lisbon – 2016-17
Midland – 2016-17
Tipton – 2016-17
Mount Vernon – 2016-17

As summer ends, teachers and students are preparing to head back to the classroom. So am I—through America’s Legislators Back to School Program.

I am setting up my schedule of school visits and am excited to go “back to school.” Please contact me if you are interested in having me come to your school.

The Back to School Program is designed to teach young people—the nation’s future voters and leaders—what it’s like to be a state legislator, and it gives me the chance to meet personally with young constituents and to answer questions, share ideas and listen to concerns.

The program engages students and gives them an understanding of democracy. Every year, more than 1,400 state lawmakers visit an estimated 320,000 students in their classrooms. I’ve visited class rooms all over my senate district and hope to visit more this year. Trying to bring civics to life for students is one of my favorite parts of being a senator.

As a new school year gets under way, I know teachers, staff, administrators and school boards will provide great educational opportunities for our students. However, they’ll face a challenge because funding is much less than they expected.

Iowa education funding has fallen behind the increasing investments made by other states. We’re now in the bottom third of states for K-12 per-pupil funding, investing $1,612 less per student than the national average.

We planned to reverse that trend this year, until Governor Branstad’s last-minute veto of a bipartisan compromise. Now our K-12 schools will be out $56 million that they’d hoped to use this fall for updated textbooks, computers, lab equipment and other teaching tools.

Here’s what our local school districts are missing out on:
Bennett – $21,223
Durant – $64,405
Iowa City – $1,486,381
Lisbon – $75,903
Midland – $58,773
Mount Vernon – $119,586
North Cedar – $96,345
Solon – $144,333
Tipton – $99,546
West Branch – $89,386
Wilton – $86,531

A recent poll shows the majority of Iowans oppose the Governor’s veto. They know Iowa has enough money to make the necessary investments in our students and schools while balancing the state budget responsibly. The state’s nonpartisan Revenue Estimating Conference projects state revenues will grow by 6 percent this year. In addition, we have a budget surplus of more than $300 million and almost $700 million in our reserve funds, the largest amount in state history.

Years of not helping our schools keep up with the cost of inflation is taking its toll. The loss of funds this year is resulting in staff layoffs, program cuts, larger class sizes and higher property taxes.

Senate Democrats are committed to making Iowa schools No. 1 again. We respect the work of teachers, administrators and school board members, and will fight again next session for the kind of increase that Iowa students deserve. We need to ensure that Iowa’s next generation will be at a competitive advantage when it comes to education and job opportunities.

Keeping college affordable allows more Iowans to get the education and skills they need to find good jobs. It creates a positive cycle that helps our state attract the types of businesses and jobs to strengthen our middle class and grow our economy.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said that college grads earn 66 percent more than those with a high school diploma. By 2020, about two thirds of job openings will require postsecondary education. Yet college is more expensive than ever, increasing at alarming rates in recent decades and burdening students with massive debt.

Affordable tuition for those willing to study hard and work hard is a smart approach to strengthening Iowa’s middle class, keeping our workforce competitive and building a high-skill, high-wage economy. Iowa students have proven they are willing to do their part. Studies show that they have a much better college graduation rate than the nation as a whole.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that Governor Branstad vetoed funding to make college and career training more affordable.

The role of community colleges is growing, as they work closely with local businesses to reduce Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers. They’re the first place many Iowans go for higher education, job training and better career opportunities. An increase of $2.5 million this year was meant to keep community college tuition affordable. The Governor’s veto is a loss for students at Kirkwood and Eastern Iowa community colleges.

We also proposed to freeze tuition for a third consecutive year at Iowa’s public universities. But Governor Branstad’s veto of almost $8.8 million is expected to result in a mid-year tuition hike at the University of Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa. That’s a bad move when you consider that about 63 percent of Iowa’s state university graduates in 2013 had student loan debt, averaging $28,293 per student, according to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

Students fared better at Iowa’s private colleges and universities, including Cornell College in nearby Mount Vernon. A boost in the Iowa Tuition Grant will ensure students can afford the education that’s right for them. To qualify, a student must be an Iowa resident, attend an independent, non-profit college or university, and demonstrate financial need. The Iowa Tuition Grant represents about 1 percent of all state funding for education, but it helped more than 14,000 Iowa students last year and generated almost $450 million in financial aid awards from the schools.

For more on grants, scholarships and other help to pay for college, go to

Paulsen Retires But House Continues in ALEC’s Hands

A Legislator for Every Corp.

A Legislator for Every Corp.

Just in case the citizens of Iowa were concerned that the retirement of Kraig Paulsen as speaker of the House next January might loosens ALEC’s grip on the Iowa House rest assured that the most likely successor is even tighter with ALEC than Paulsen was.

Linda Upmeyer is the former chair of ALEC and heir apparent to the Speaker’s chair next January. Once again, for those who are new to this, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. Behind that innocuous sounding name lies a corporate group that writes very corporate friendly legislation and helps member legislators get such legislation passed. In short, ALEC creates legislation that is extremely favorable to corporations. If conditions do not exist that would call for an ALEC solution, ALEC members work to make such conditions exist.

Let’s take the recent school funding line item veto by Governor Branstad. Branstad is also in the tank for ALEC, having been a founding member some 40 years ago. One of ALEC’s major agendas is to gut public schools and create a clamor for alternative, profitized schools. One of the best ways to do so is to cut public funding to public schools. As the money goes down, schools will inevitably be unable to maintain the high quality that we in Iowa once took as our birthright. If you lived in Iowa you got to attend the best schools in the country.

Paulsen and his colleagues in House refused to move on a major underfunding of schools continuing the policy they have established over the Branstad term. Democrats refused to leave Des Moines without more money for schools and an assurance that Branstad would give the money due consideration. Thanks to an upsurge in tax revenues it looked like the compromise of a one time cash infusion to the schools would be safe from the Branstad veto pen. But, no it wasn’t. Branstad tried to duck any media scrutiny by vetoing school funding on a Friday night before a major holiday weekend. That was July 3rd.

Many were surprised by the veto. Those who have watched Branstad over the years were not. His loyalty is not to Iowa, but to the corporations of ALEC and their mission to profitize every aspect of our lives. The House leadership fought tooth and nail to pass a school budget that that would send Iowa’s schools in reverse, much like many other Republican led states in the country. When they finally compromised, it was done in such a way that the compromise could be carved out by the line item veto pen.

Don’t forget that the environment for the cutting of school budget money was set up years before when the legislature passed major tax cuts geared mostly to corporations.

Expect another major row over school budgets next year with nearly the same scenarios. Republicans under Upmeyer will once more propose little if any increase and will refuse to budge. Once again they will break the law they themselves pushed by refusing to even attempt to pass a school budget on time. As they waste our time and money in Des Moines, Iowa’s school children will be crowded into larger classrooms with even less individual attention. We can expect Iowa’s test scores to continue to fall.

We can also expect to hear more and more voices calling for the private sector to come rescue our schools. Most of these voices will be from people who are invested in some way in having schools profitized. You can bet that Speaker and former ALEC chair Upmeyer will have an ALEC approved bill ready to make that happen. Head of the House Ways and Means committee chair and ALEC task force member Tom Sands will be ready to give his stamp of approval and former founding member of ALEC Terry Branstad will be ready to sign it and declare a major step forward for Iowa.

Thus will Iowa go down the road to being a subsidiary of ALEC and their member corporations.

As Iowa is led along this prepared path to its ALEC endorsed conclusion, remember legislation is seldom reversed. Also remember that the major media voices in this state – newspapers, radio TV and magazines – are corporate owned and will be pushing for profitized corporate answers to what ever problems come up or are created.

Lawmakers Call for Special Session on School Funding

kirsten marquard

From Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquard

On July 2nd, Governor Branstad vetoed $56 million in urgently needed school funding. The money was approved by lawmakers in a compromise during the 2015 legislative session.

kirsten's petition

In an effort to restore school funding, I and other lawmakers are calling for a special session of the Iowa Legislature to overturn the veto. For a special session to occur, two-thirds of Iowa lawmakers (67 in the House/34 in the Senate) must formally request one. Above is my official petition.

Iowa school leaders say the result of the $56 million veto will be larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and higher property taxes. A petition from Iowans to lawmakers calling for a special session was also launched last week and has already gathered over 5,000 signatures. Anyone interested in signing the petition can go here.

The state just ended the fiscal year on the June 30th with a 6% increase in revenues and collected a record $8 billion for the first time in Iowa history. Over the last five years, school funding has slipped to about 1.85% annually, including one year when the Republican party and Governor Branstad left schools with zero. That’s compared to average increases of about 6% in the 1980’s to 4% in the 90’s.

Separately here is an analysis from Iowa Policy Project:

Some folks may buy into Gov. Branstad’s line about spending “one time money” as a solid reason for a line item veto. But as often happens, Republican “logic” falls apart under scrutiny. Mike Owen of Iowa Policy Project provides just such scrutiny:

Set aside for a moment that it can be quite sensible to use one-time funds for ongoing expenses. It depends on the circumstances. Set aside the fact that Iowa revenues and projections are strong and that state money seems to be available on an ongoing basis for corporate subsidies if not for restoring repeated shortfalls in education funding.

In the case at hand, the Governor vetoed one-time funds — for public schools, community colleges and the three regents universities — that ironically would have been spent in line with his own stated concern. The $55.7 million in one-time funds for local schools and area education agencies would have supplemented regular funding, set at 1.25 percent growth per pupil, all part of a package negotiated by the split-control Legislature.

Here’s the oft-stated concern about one-time funds, in a nutshell: You don’t spend one-time money on things that commit you to the same or greater spending in the future, because you don’t know whether the funds will be there later on.

For K-12 schools, the legislation specifies that funds “are intended to supplement, not supplant, existing school district funding for instructional expenditures.” It goes on to define “instructional expenditures” in such a way that assures the funds are for one-time uses that carry no additional commitment beyond the FY2016 budget year.

So, you can add to one-time expenses that you would have had to leave out, for purposes such as textbooks, library books, other instructional materials, transportation costs or educational initiatives to increase academic achievement. You can’t plan on having the same funds available in the following budget year.

For community colleges and the regents, each section of the bill included this stipulation: “Moneys appropriated in this section shall be used for purposes of nonrecurring expenses and not for operational purposes or ongoing expenses. For purposes of this section, ‘operational purposes’ means salary, support, administrative expenses, or other personnel-related costs.”

With or without the one-time funds that would have helped school districts, the legislative compromise ensures the continued erosion of the basic building block for school budgets, the per-pupil cost.

For the last six budget years, per-pupil budget growth has been above 2 percent only once. Once it was zero, and schools for the coming year are at 1.25 percent. This does not come close to meeting the costs of education at the same level year after year.

Supplemental State Aid (formerly termed “allowable growth) defines the percentage growth in the cost per pupil used to determine local school district budgets, which are based on enrollment. For FY2016, the Legislature and Governor have set the growth figure at 1.25 percent. Though state law requires this figure to be set about 16 months before the start of the fiscal year, the issue was not resolved until last week, when the Governor signed the legislation, and the fiscal year had already begun. The Senate passed 4 percent growth for FY2017 and the House 2 percent, but no compromise emerged and that remains unsettled. The education funding vetoed last week by the Governor affects separate one-time spending that would not have affected future budgets.

Study: Cannabis can help treat bone fractures

medical marijuanaOne of the real mysteries to many Americans is how our country can turn a blind eye to a plant that has been shown that it could help solve some major problems from agriculture to construction to medicine.

The ban on use of products from cannabis plants is particularly baffling in the medical area. Based on some myths that came into popular lore in the first half of the last century, laws were created that all but banned research on medicinal uses for cannabis in the US. Other countries are throwing off their self imposed shackles of fear and are studying what applications there could be for cannabis derived medicines.

Cannabis derived medicines have been shown to have real promise in helping control seizures in children which can be life saving. This is one place where the Iowa legislature to their pride legalized use of the medication yet to their unending shame refused to legalize ownership of the medicine.

Just a short list of some of the medical conditions that cannabis medications can treat:
stop cancer from spreading
decreases anxiety
slows the effects of Alzheimer’s
Crohn’s disease

As I said, that is just a short list. A lengthier list with some discussion can be found here. Just the other day a new study was released that that showed that marijuana products rich cannabidiol oil sped up the healing of bone fractures. Imagine what that could mean for older folks who just broke a hip or a leg. In a story in the SFGATE Oscar Pascual summarizes the findings of a study done at Hebrew University in Jerusalem:

“CBD markedly enhanced the biomechanical properties of the healing femora after 8 weeks,” researchers reported.

Researchers also evaluated the administration of both CBD and THC, but did not find it to be more advantageous than CBD by itself.

“CBD alone is sufficiently effective in enhancing fracture healing. … Multiple experimental and clinical trials have portrayed CBD as a safe agent suggesting further studies in humans to assess its usefulness for improving fracture healing,” the study concluded.

CBD-rich cannabis could prove beneficial for bones as well as joints, as patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis are now reportedly using medical marijuana for pain relief.

So once again we appeal to those in congress and in legislatures throughout the country to stop this insane war on the cannabis plant. Let Americans use applications derived from the cannabis plant to enrich our lives through medicines, agricultural (especially needed in mono-cultural Iowa) and industrial uses.

Let me remind you that those who form the biggest lobbies against cannabis tell us quite a story about why it remains illegal and un researched in the US:

the pharmaceutical industry – cannabis may be able to displace billion dollar drugs
the alcohol industry – pretty obvious I would say
the police union
private prison corporations
prison guard unions.

Way beyond time to throw off the shackles of ignorance, Iowa and America.

2015 Iowa Legislative Session – Tobacco Control

Iowa Capitol

Iowa Capitol

Eileen Fisher is a Johnson County resident and president of CAFE Iowa CAN, a network of tobacco control advocates whose presence is felt continuously among Iowa legislators.

She recently provided this report on tobacco control legislation during the 2015 session of the General Assembly.

New Laws

Health and Human Services Budget—SF 505
The bill appropriates funds from the General Fund for the Departments of Aging, Human Services, Public Health, Veterans Affairs and the Iowa Veterans Home. This bill represents a decrease of $19.2 million compared to FY15. The final bill provides the following appropriations and policy provisions of interest to your organization:

  • Level funding of $5,248,361 for the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Division.
  • Removal of the earmarks on the funding with the exception of the $453k for enforcement with ABD.
  • New language was included which requires the department to determine if those seeking help with cessation services have third-party sources available before providing nicotine replacement products through the program.

Bills that Failed to Pass

Vaping Regulations—HF 306–Position: For
This bill would have redefined alternative nicotine and vapor products as tobacco products, thus making all provisions applicable to tobacco products also applicable to alternative nicotine products and vapor products, including the taxation of tobacco products.

Casino Licenses—SF 139–Position: Monitoring
This bill would have provided for the issuance of a license to conduct gambling games at a gambling structure in which smoking is prohibited. This bill required the racing and gambling commission to establish a process for granting licenses to conduct gambling games at a gambling structure that is subject to the smoking prohibition requirements of Code section 142D.3. Companion bills on this issue include SF24 and HF255.

Casino Smoking Ban—SF 36 –Position: For
This bill would have removed the exception under the Smokefree Air Act that allowed smoking on gaming floors; the bill makes the entirety of these premises subject to the smoking prohibitions of the Act. Companion bills on this issue include HF102 and HF336.

Tobacco Age—SSB 1109 – Monitoring
This legislation would have raised the legal age for use of tobacco, nicotine products and vapor products to 19. The title of the bill was The Keep Tobacco Out of Iowa High Schools Act.

Cigarette Permits & Reports—SSB 1195–Position: For
This bill would have related to the permit fees for distributors, subjobbers, and retailers of tobacco products. Under this bill the fee for permits for cigarette and tobacco product distributors, vendors, and wholesalers would have been raised to $500, up from the current $100.

Note bills that failed to pass in 2015 remain active for the 2016 legislative session. To learn more about CAFE Iowa CAN, click here.

#QuitWhining Fallout: Senator Johnson Doubles Down, Calls for Privatizing Education

Republicans want to profitize schools

Republicans want to profitize schools

For Immediate Release
July 10, 2015

Contact: Josh Levitt

Important Questions Remain: Will Iowa GOP Condemn Johnson’s Remarks?
Do Iowa GOP leaders support Johnson’s Desire to Privatize Education?

DES MOINES – The Iowa Republican Party hit a new low yesterday as GOP State Senator David Johnson scolded an Iowa teacher to “quit whining” about education funding. Johnson’s comment comes after Republicans in the legislature, including Johnson, spent ample time during the 2015 legislative session fighting to underfund Iowa schools and leave school districts with far fewer resources to support Iowa students.

Democrats fought for months to get proper funding for Iowa Schools. And now we know why Branstad vetoed more than $55 million in K-12 funding, a move that until yesterday defied reason and ran contrary to the priorities of most Iowans. Senator David Johnson made it very clear: Republicans simply don’t care about Iowa teachers or the support they provide for our students.

Johnson’s response was downright shameful, especially for a public official. But instead of apologizing to Iowa teachers for his deplorable remark, Johnson doubled down on his opposition to education funding late yesterday, and, in the process, made clear that his goal is to privatize education.

According to Iowa Starting Line, Johnson sent an email to another Iowa teacher, Ryan Paulson, where he declares,

“True ed reform won’t happen until that $6,000 in state aid is stapled to every student’s backpack and spent at the discretion of the parent(s).”

In the wake of Johnson’s remarks, two important questions remain:

Does the Iowa Republican Party condemn David Johnson for his shameful and insulting remarks yesterday directed towards an Iowa teacher?

Do Republican Party leaders, namely Governor Terry Branstad and Minority Leader Bill Dix, support Johnson’s desire to privatize education?

If Branstad, Dix and the Iowa Republican Party are looking to privatize education in Iowa, perhaps that explains their relentless drive to underfund Iowa schools, even as educators have spoken out, loudly, against the cuts.

See the full roundup below:

In Follow-Up Emails GOP Senator Reveals Republican’s Real Education Plan

Iowa Starting Line
Apparently Senator David Johnson wasn’t finished sending questionable emails on education just yet. In other emails Starting Line obtained from readers and found posted online, Johnson makes clear he doesn’t mind the fallout his tone is causing, saying in one, “I sure hope all these emails are going viral too.” More importantly, however, in one reply he lays out his desire for an ambitious, all-encompassing school voucher/privatization plan that may explain Statehouse Republicans’ actions on education funding.

GOP Senator Tells Teacher to “Quit Whining”About School Funds
Iowa Starting Line
“Good to hear your view,” Johnson began in his response. “But apparently you lack the courage to tell us where you are from and where you teach. BTW, the session extended by the Democrats unnecessarily cost me that same $2,000. My money, not taxpayers’. ” “Quit whining,” the email concluded. “Kind but skeptical regards, David Johnson.”

Iowa state senator to Waterloo teacher: Quit whining

Lee Newspapers
A state senator from northwest Iowa told a Waterloo teacher to “quit whining” during an email exchange about state funding for public schools.

‘Quit whining,’ Senator tells teacher who emailed about state funding for schools

Radio Iowa
Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, replied, saying Gross lacked the courage to reveal where he was from and he told the teacher to “quit whining.” Gross posted the exchange on his Facebook page. “I was suprised by kind of the tone. I didn’t think it was actually him and then…gave him a chance to reply and he said it was him and wasn’t really apologetic about it,” Gross says. “That was pretty shocking.”

Feisty Emails Between Teacher, Senator


NW Iowa lawmaker says he doesn’t regret email to teacher


editor’s note: Sen. Johnson’s line about ”extended unnecessarily by the Democrats’ indicates that Republicans expected (or knew) Branstad would veto the compromise. They were never bargaining in good faith.

Republicans Fail Iowans In 2015 Session

Senator Joe Bolkcom

Senator Joe Bolkcom

(Editor’s Note: Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa Senate District 43 in the Legislature. The following editorial appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen, and is reprinted with permission of the author).

When considering the accomplishments of the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature, it makes sense to be clear about where we started.

In Iowa, Republicans control the governor’s office and the Iowa House. Democrats control the Iowa Senate. That means bipartisan support is required for any idea to pass the legislature.

  • Republican opposition, for example, prevented the following common sense ideas from reaching the governor’s desk:
    ­ An increase in the minimum wage.
  • A crack down on dishonest employers who refuse to pay employees what they are owed.
  • An anti-bullying law to give all students a safe and supportive place to learn.
  • The elimination of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse so no Iowa abuser can ever be sure they got away with it.
  • Tougher laws against domestic violence and human trafficking.

I again led efforts to bring Iowans responsible, regulated access to medicines made from cannabis. The legislation we wrote is based on the most successful approaches adopted by other states, including Minnesota and Illinois. It was approved with bipartisan support in the Senate, but was blocked from a vote in the House by Republican leaders.

It takes time for even good ideas to become law. The minimum wage hike, the wage theft crackdown, the anti-bullying effort, the tougher laws on domestic abuse and human trafficking, and medical cannabis will all be ready for the House to consider next January.

While I was disappointed those ideas did not become law, I’ve very happy to report that steep, permanent cuts in state support for the University of Iowa were decisively rejected.

I want to thank the many Johnson County residents who spoke up against a misguided proposal from the Iowa Board of Regents.

I’m proud that Democratic state senators and my Johnson County House colleagues, led by Senate Budget Chairman Bob Dvorsky of Coralville, made it clear that so-called “performance based funding” goes nowhere as long as Democrats hold the majority of the Iowa Senate.

Local school funding was the most contentious issue of this session. We need to face the fact that Iowa no longer leads the nation in student achievement.

Other states are investing more and seeing better results. When it comes to per student funding in our K-12 schools, Iowa—the education state—has slipped into the bottom third of the 50 states.

Education is the next generation’s ticket to a better life and is key to building a high-wage, high-skill Iowa economy. That’s why I worked hard this session to get our state’s support for education back on track. Unfortunately, despite hard work from Iowa educators, students and parents, the best that can be said is that a status quo education budget was approved.

It might be enough to prevent Iowa from falling further behind, but it won’t help our young people catch up to students in other states.

The Republican argument that Iowa can’t afford first class schools is ridiculous. Our state’s economy is growing and we have almost $1 billion in savings. And the same House Republicans who voted against education turned around and introduced legislation calling for massive tax giveaways to wealthy Iowans and out-of-state corporations.

What Iowans need to know about this session is that support for public education is now a partisan issue at the Iowa Statehouse. That’s unfortunate, but it is true.

Legislative Democrats support strong local schools and affordable access to community colleges, public universities and private colleges.
Legislative Republicans don’t.

In fact, the Republican majority of the Iowa House was so opposed to responsibly funding Iowa’s local schools that they ignored legal deadlines and caused fiscal uncertainty in hundreds of school districts.

More than 1,100 Iowa teachers were pink-slipped this spring because of Republican intransigence in the Capitol. Republican members of the legislature stubbornly refused to bargain, even to the point of threatening to shut down state government.

Most Iowans, be they Democrats or Republicans, do not share this strange hostility toward public education. That’s why Iowa candidates for office always promise to support local schools.

The 2015 session is when the gap between campaign promises and votes cast in the legislature became a Grand Canyon.

In the coming months, I’ll be working to tell as many Iowans as possible the story of the failure of legislative Republicans to support our local students.

My goal is to help the majority of Iowans who support our schools gain the attention of the Republican members of the Legislature.

If they do, the next session of the Iowa Legislature will be the one that reverses Iowa’s slide with regard to educational leadership.

Contact Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, at

(Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Governor Branstad used his authority to line item veto the bipartisan, bicameral agreement on school funding. Bolkcom, who uses Twitter sparingly, posted twice in reaction to the governor’s veto).



How The Gun Lobby’s Top Legislative Priority In Iowa Was Defeated


by John Feinblatt

Every four years, the national media looks to Iowa for stories about where American voters stand on pressing issues.

After what happened this spring here in Des Moines, it’s clear where Iowans stand on guns and public safety — and how Iowans made their voices heard is a story that deserves to be told.

It starts in the Statehouse, where the NRA’s lobbyists pushed Senate File 425. The bill set out to overturn a longstanding background check requirement on private handgun sales. In effect, the gun lobby wanted to get rid of a provision that helps ensure guns sold at places like gun shows and via the Internet are subject to the same rules as guns sold at federally licensed dealers.

In quickly advancing the bill to the floor, gun lobby-aligned lawmakers conveniently avoided talking about what the bill would actually do. They went so far as to say that that the bill was focused on “safety improvements.” They also touted the bill’s other provisions, including those that would streamline the law to ease some restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. The lobbyists never mentioned repealing background checks. That makes sense, since 88 percent of Iowans support the background check policy.

In the run-up to the final vote on the Senate floor, I reached out to Republican strategists in Iowa to see whether the NRA could be stopped.

“Not a chance,” longtime political observers told me. “They’re too powerful and once they’ve gotten something on the floor, there’s no way to beat them.”

We’ve heard that line for years. Too often, we’ve taken it for granted. The truth is, there’s only one way to find out if the conventional wisdom is actually accurate: show up and fight back.

And that’s what we did.

The Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, went to work. Iowa moms made nearly 5,000 phone calls to state senators, explaining what the bill really would do. They held an advocacy day and delivered petitions filled with signatures. They ran informational advertisements in newspapers across the state.

Most important, they talked face to face with their friends and neighbors.

In the end, the so-called experts were wrong. The Legislature never passed the bill, and the “unbeatable” gun lobby saw its top legislative priority in Iowa defeated.

The lesson we should take from Iowa is simple, and bears repeating.

When people know what’s in a bill —when legislators understand the consequences of what they’re voting on — they’ll do the right thing.

Using misleading language to mask a bill’s true purpose may have worked in the past, but it didn’t this time. Once we got away from the horse-trading lobbyists at the Capitol and into cities and towns throughout the state, we saw that the public wanted to keep the background check system in place. Iowans know that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous felons is just common sense. Like the vast majority of Americans, they believe that Second Amendment rights go hand in hand with basic safety measures.

The defeat of SF 425 is more than just a political victory, though. Iowans will be safer as a result of its defeat. We know this because in nearby Missouri, legislators overturned a background check requirement in 2007 and the results were deadly. Research by the scholar Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that after Missouri did the gun lobby’s bidding and gutted its background check system, the state’s gun homicide rate increased by nearly 25 percent. We know, too, that the gun suicide rate in Iowa is 27 percent lower than in states that lack comprehensive background check measures.

Ultimately, the win in Iowa serves as yet another reminder that when you try new approaches and get voters engaged on an issue, powerful interests can be defeated.

When the people go head to head against the gun lobby, the people —and public safety —can prevail.

John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety. Contact:

Iowa Will Have Expanded Broadband Internet Access

iowa capitol Something good came out of the Iowa legislature this session.

A bipartisan bill to expand broadband internet access to more homes, schools and businesses was signed into law by Governor Branstad last week. The bill also contains language regarding uniformity for local governments when approving cell tower siting applications.

Communication providers identified the cost of laying fiber optics as one of, if not the, main barrier to expansion of broadband service into rural Iowa. Under House File 641, a provider can apply for and receive a ten-year property tax exemption for the installation of broadband in identified targeted areas. The Legislature also created a Broadband Grant Fund that providers can access for assistance, up to 15% of qualified installation projects.

A targeted service area is one that is defined to an area that doesn’t have a communication service provider that offers or facilitates broadband service at or above 25 megabits per second of download speed and 3 megabits per second of upload speed. The property tax exemption will be for projects that begin on or after July 1, 2015, and will no longer be available for projects beginning July 1, 2020.

Cell Tower Siting

A uniform process was created for the location of new cell towers, modifications of existing cell towers, and collocation of cell towers and the rights and responsibilities of local governments for approval of the towers. The goal of the legislation is find the right balance between how much information must be provided by the cell tower applicant and how much authority a local government can have over these decisions.

Applicants (cell tower companies) will be required to provide an explanation as to why they are asking to build new rather than to collocate with an existing tower. Local governments feel that this information is important to help them in make an unbiased decision. Likewise, local governments must approve an application for a new tower in 150 days, or the application is automatically approved. This gives applicants a definitive timeline to help with their business decisions.

Branstad Throws $21 Million At Egyptian Fertilizer Company While Telling Iowa Schools to F*** Off

Branstad Funds Orascom Instead of Schools

DES MOINES — The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) today approved an additional $21.5 million in tax incentives for the Iowa Fertilizer Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Orascom Construction Industries. The total granted to Orascom by IEDA is now nearly $110 million, and today’s decision comes just days after the Iowa legislature adjourned a contentious session where revenue shortfalls played a role in every budgetary decision.

In July of 2014, Public Policy Polling released a survey showing widespread opposition to granting another set of tax incentives for Orascom. 55% of registered voters in Iowa were opposed, and just 22% were in favor.

In response to today’s decision by IEDA, Progress Iowa executive director Matt Sinovic issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision by the Branstad administration to grant Orascom another $21.5 million is shameful. How can the Governor tell teachers or state employees that we have the money for an Egyptian fertilizer company, but not for our schools or other programs we value? The Governor’s priorities are misguided and out of step with everyday Iowans.”

“Orascom has taken advantage of every giveaway from the Branstad administration, fired more than 1,100 workers, and then had the audacity to come back and ask for more. Unfortunately, IEDA never knows when to stand up for Iowa values and say enough is enough.”

“Every budget decision shows what our state values. Our legislature and Governor chose not to adequately fund education this year. The Governor ignored the legislature and chose to shut down half of our state’s mental health facilities. But somehow, some way, this Egyptian fertilizer company keeps receiving millions of dollars from a state that supposedly can’t afford much of anything else.”

“Today’s decision demonstrates that our Governor and legislature don’t value our schools, state workers, or those in need of mental health care as much as they value a foreign corporation with a poor track record.”

Progress Iowa is a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization with a network of more than 60,000 progressives. Year-round, Progress Iowa advocates for a stronger middle class, first-class public education, and fairness for all Iowans under the law.

Contact: Matt Sinovic, (515) 423-0530



Public Policy Polling Survey: Strong Opposition to Orascom Deal in Iowa

Iowa Fertilizer Company gets another tax incentive award

Iowa fertilizer plant seeks additional $21.5 million