Follow BFIA on Twitter
Blog for Iowa Archives
Blog for Iowa Categories
Search BFIA by Date
October 2014
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Fight Media Bias

Iowa

Iowa Rapid Response Action

First responders to biased, imbalanced or factually inaccurate media coverage

Iowans for Better Local TV


National

FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

*FAIR is a national media watch group that offers well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship


Free Press

News Corpse

Prometheus Radio Project

Radio for People

Save the Internet

Save the News

Posts Tagged ‘Tom Courtney’

The Courtney Report

When looking ahead to the 2013 session of the Iowa Legislature, continuing to create jobs and grow Iowa’s economy tops my priority list.

We need to do what we can to help more Iowans recover from the national recession. Ensuring that workers can get the training they need must be part of our statewide effort.

This is important because the current skill shortage is proving to be a serious drag on Iowa’s economy. By 2018, 62 percent of all jobs in Iowa—1.1 million jobs—will require some training or education beyond high school. Yet nearly 10 percent of Iowa’s working-age adults do not have a high school diploma.

By investing now in worker training and retraining, we can make sure Iowans are ready to step into new jobs as the economy rebounds.

Last year, we took a step in the right direction by approving the biggest single-year increase in state general aid to community colleges. We also created new opportunities to earn non-credit skill certificates and launched the new Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant, also known as “Kibbie Grants.” (More on the grants below!)

Here are other ways we can invest in Iowans and in Iowa businesses:

• Cutting commercial property taxes for every Iowa business, especially for small businesses.

• Cutting taxes for working families struggling to make ends meet, thereby boosting the local economy.

• Making it more likely that Iowa and U.S. companies will get state and local government contracts when their bids are cost competitive.

We’ve made bipartisan progress on these issues in the last couple of years. My hope for 2013 is that we’ll keep working together and take some big steps forward.

The new legislative session starts on January 14. Please tell me what you think should be done to boost economic growth and job creation here in Iowa. Call or e-mail me with your ideas.

NEW WORKFORCE GRANT HELPS IOWANS GET JOB TRAINING
Iowa ranks 13th in overall business friendliness but only 40th when it comes to labor supply. That’s why I’m working to help Iowans get the skills they need to fill in-demand jobs.

Iowa’s agricultural manufacturers need more welders, and Iowa businesses in almost every field can’t find enough people to run computers and manage software. When employers can’t find the skilled workers they need in Iowa, they lose business to competitors, hire people from another state or some other country to do the work, or move their business out of Iowa.

By 2018, 62 percent of all jobs in Iowa will require some training or education beyond high school. In addition to credentials, employers need workers with the professional skills necessary to succeed in the workplace, such as dependability, time management and initiative.

That’s why I fought this year for $5 million in Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grants for students attending Iowa’s community colleges. Senate File 2321, approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, provides grants to Iowans studying full- or part-time at one of our community colleges and are in need of financial help to cover their tuition. Grants are awarded for study in areas where Iowa doesn’t have enough workers with the right skills.

About 4,500 students are eligible for the grants this school year. The maximum Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant is $2,040 for eligible Iowa students who enroll on a full-time basis during the 2012-13 academic year. Grants for full-time students are intended to cover one-half of the average tuition and fees at Iowa community colleges.

A complete summary of the Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant is available at http://tinyurl.com/SWSTG. For a list of the areas of study eligible for these grants, check out pages 7-10. To find out which programs are available at Southeastern Community College and Eastern Iowa Community College, contact the financial aid offices.

NEWS YOU CAN USE
Donate to your local food bank this holiday season
Over the holidays, Iowans will be gathering around the dinner table to celebrate with family and friends.

But for many Iowans, it’s a real struggle to put food on the table each day. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12 percent of Iowa households often lack enough food, or must choose between buying food or buying medicine and other essentials. That means thousands of Iowa children and seniors are not getting the food they need.

During the 2012 session, legislators worked together to make sure Iowans have enough to eat by making a modest $500,000 investment in Iowa’s food banks. Our idea passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support but was vetoed by Governor Branstad.

In the meantime, Iowans have faced rising food prices and food banks have seen an increase in the number of Iowans in need.

With about a billion dollars in our savings accounts, Iowa’s state budget is in good shape. When the 2013 session rolls around in January, we ought to take another look at how we can help our food banks feed hungry Iowans. It’s the right thing to do.

During this season of giving, let’s all pitch in to stock the shelves of our local food banks and make sure no Iowan goes hungry. Please join me in supporting our community food banks and local charities.

Nominate an employer for the Support Freedom Award
Through January 17, nominations are being accepted for the Employer Support Freedom Award. This annual award, presented by the Secretary of Defense, is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers who show outstanding support for employees serving in the Guard and Reserve.

Almost one-half of the U.S. military is comprised of the Guard and Reserve. The Department of Defense shares these citizen warriors with their civilian employers, who often go to great lengths to support employees who serve our country. Do you know an employer who fits this bill? What sets them apart from others?

Any Guard or Reserve member can nominate their employer. If a service member does not have access to submit a nomination, a family member can nominate the service member’s employer on their behalf. For more details on the award or to nominate a great employer, go to https://esgr.csd.disa.mil/fa/NominateYourEmployerView.aspx.

Online resources for Iowa entrepreneurs
Thinking of starting or expanding a business?

Entrepreneurs have a new online business tool to assist them in developing their products and ideas. IASourceLink.com is a one-stop shop to help Iowans access the technical and financial resources that best meet their business needs. In addition, MyEntre.Net, a service of the University of Northern Iowa, provides timely, expert webinars, blogs and resources dedicated to Iowa small businesses.

Take advantage of expert help with these great online resources available to Iowans—and get your business idea off the ground.

Contact Tom
CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report

These days there is a lot of talk about improving health care nationwide. In Iowa, it’s not just talk. We’ve taken big steps toward making sure all Iowans have access to the best possible health care.

This year in the Legislature, we kept Iowa moving forward by:

• Attracting more doctors to rural Iowa. We’re helping medical students repay their student loans when they practice in areas of the state that need more doctors (HF 2458).

• Reforming Iowa’s mental health system. This is a major undertaking that will ensure all Iowans get high-quality mental health care regardless of where they live (SF 2315).

• Ensuring your treatment preferences are respected by making them part of a medical order that healthcare providers can rely on (HF 2165).

• Helping seniors live independently and safely through community based services and less dependence on institutional care (SF2336).

• Making sure Iowa’s nursing homes are safe (SF 2316).

• Establishing statewide standards so that Iowans, including returning soldiers, who need prosthetics and orthotics get top-quality products and services (SF 364).

• Supporting local health care services to make Iowa a healthier place, help Iowans quit smoking and provide low-income Iowans with access to preventive health screenings (SF2336).

There is still plenty to do, especially when it comes to reducing the high cost of health care and health insurance. Many working Iowans have no health insurance, making them reluctant to see a doctor until they’re desperate enough to go to the emergency room. That’s expensive and doesn’t produce the best results.

When uninsured Iowans can’t pay their medical bills, the price of everyone’s health care goes up to cover the unpaid expenses. A study by the Iowa Hospital Association found that uncompensated care cost Iowa hospitals—and ultimately you and me—more than $851 million in 2010.

If we want to keep the cost of health care in check, we must keep working on solutions. Thank goodness Iowa health care providers, business leaders and consumer advocates have been proactive in solving our state’s challenges over the years. By working together, Iowa can continue leading the nation on the health care front.

New funding for SE Iowa airport
The Iowa Transportation Commission has approved funding for the State Aviation Program, which seeks to maintain a safe air transportation system statewide. Funding will go to improve local airports from aircraft registration fees, aviation fuel taxes and with dollars from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

The Burlington–Southeast Iowa Regional Airport was awarded $94,903 to replace a 70-year-old hangar. For more on aviation in Iowa, visit www.iowadot.gov/aviation.

Improving Iowa’s Mental Health and Disability Services
A major step in our efforts to improve health care in Iowan came this year when we approved a sweeping overhaul of how our state provides mental health and disability services to Iowans who need them. It was a bipartisan effort, with legislators working together and taking suggestions from consumers, health care providers and other concerned Iowans on how to best organize the new system.

The redesigned Mental Health and Disability Services system will provide Iowans better access to mental health services through a regional system, rather than the county system that is currently in place. Senate File 2315 creates a new structure in which the state sets standards and designates regions to administer the services, which will be provided in local communities. This arrangement will save money, eliminate administrative duplication and offer consistency in both rural and urban counties.

Thanks to this redesigned system, more Iowans will get high-quality services, whether they live in rural or urban Iowa.

What do federal health care changes mean for Iowa?
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal Affordable Care Act. This federal initiative has already helped thousands of Iowans by expanding access to health care, lowering costs and increasing preventative care. This includes:

• Helping Iowans with pre-existing conditions get coverage.

• Ensuring Iowans no longer have lifetime caps on health insurance policies.

• Providing Iowans with preventative health services without co-pays. This includes well-child visits, cancer screenings and immunizations.

• Allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy up to age 26.

• Saving Iowa seniors on Medicare thousands on prescription drugs.

Federal efforts could also expand Medicaid coverage to more than 80,000 additional Iowans, many of whom work fulltime. This will lower health care costs for everyone by ensuring more Iowans are able to get regular checkups and preventive care, rather than relying on expensive emergency room visits.

With the federal commitment to pay for almost all of the cost, Iowans might save as much as $316 million annually if we participate in the Medicaid Expansion offered under federal health care reform, according to the non-partisan Urban Institute.

Rural Iowa needs more doctors
Having a primary care doctor in your community can save lives, save money and improve everyone’s quality of life. But in some rural parts of our state, we have a critical shortage of doctors.

When students get done with medical school, their first priority is often paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. The higher pay they often can earn in urban areas is an attractive lure. They may not even consider practicing medicine in small towns and rural areas.

We addressed that problem this year by creating the Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program (HF 2458). This state and local partnership will help new doctors repay their student loans, provided they agree to work in rural Iowa for at least five years.

It’s just one more way we’re helping all Iowans get the health care they need, no matter where they live.

News you can use
Sales tax holiday, Aug. 3-4
The new school year is rapidly approaching. You can make your money go farther for your kids’ school clothes when you take advantage of Iowa’s annual sales tax holiday on Friday, August 3, and Saturday, August 4.

You’ll pay no sales tax on any clothing or footwear item under $100 at any business that is open during these two days. Items put in layaway are not taxable no matter when you pay them off. Items already in layaway that are paid off during the tax-free weekend are also tax exempt.

For more information, go to www.iowa.gov/tax/educate/holiday1.html.

Emergency grazing due to drought
In response to high temperatures and drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is authorizing emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. So far, emergency grazing has been authorized for 25 counties and more counties are expected to be added to the list.

Livestock producers interested in grazing CRP land must get approval. For more information and the latest updates on counties approved for emergency grazing, contact your local FSA office or go to www.fsa.usda.gov/ia.

Protect yourself from whooping cough
The Iowa Department of Public Health is urging Iowa adults to talk to their health care provider about getting vaccinated for pertussis, or whooping cough.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whooping cough is causing the worst epidemic in the U.S. in more than 50 years. Iowa is among the states seeing a spread of pertussis, with cases nearly 500 percent higher than last year at this time.

The most common symptoms of pertussis in children are fits of coughing, followed by vomiting, a ‘whooping’ sound as air is inhaled, and difficulty sleeping. Adults, however, may experience only a lingering cough that lasts for weeks. Many adults may be contagious without even realizing they have pertussis.

For more information about pertussis, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/Cade/default.aspx?group=3#DI.

New online mobile Iowa jobs site
Iowa Workforce Development’s statewide job bank is now available 24/7 in a mobile version at http://workiniowa.jobs. Job opportunities can be searched by city, employer name and key word. The site only lists available jobs from employers verified by Iowa Workforce Development, so you can be sure you’re searching legitimate job openings.

Contact Tom
CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report

Good news for Burlington! The transit system in Burlington has been honored as the “Most Improved Urban Transit System of the Year” by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

During 2011, ridership on Burlington Urban System—BUS—increased 18.15 percent. At the same time, the cost per ride dropped by 16.27 percent.

Doug Roelfs, transit manager with BUS, attributes the gains to an increase in demand for transit service and to loyal riders.

This is the third time Burlington has received the award. The first time was in 2009.

Encouraging job creation and economic growth
With the Iowa economy on the mend, the Legislature focused this year on continuing job creation and economic growth.

We approved expanded job training, smart tax breaks, investments in the industries of the future, strengthening education, and ensuring workers and businesses have the resources they need.

Not every good idea made it to the Governor’s desk, but those that did will have a positive impact. They include:

• Jumpstarting new Iowa energy industries through tax credits for the construction and installation of solar energy systems and geothermal heat pumps (SF 2342)

• Continuing the tax break for consumers filling up with ethanol-blended fuel at the pump (HF 2472)

• Improving the flow of commerce by extending Iowa’s commercial and industrial highway network (SF 2153)

• Investing in efforts by Iowa’s state universities to work with businesses on technology commercialization, marketing, entrepreneurship and technical assistance (HF 2337, HF 2473)

• Boosting Iowa’s agriculture economy through year-round farmers’ markets (HF 2092)

• Keeping businesses in our communities by making it easier for an employer to sell their company to local workers through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (HF 2465)

• Investing in innovative local economic development ideas that create good jobs and growth in Iowa communities (SF 2239)

• Expanding opportunities for local auto dealers to offer vehicles for sale at fairs, shows and other exhibitions (SF 2249)

The Senate also approved several job creation initiatives that the House did not take up. I’ll keep pushing for these and other common-sense efforts to boost Iowa’s economy:

• Ensuring more publicly funded projects in Iowa use American-made goods.

• Allowing Iowa businesses the chance to match out-of-state bids when selling products and services to the state.

• Helping communities clean-up and revitalize their business districts and industrial parks.

• Leveling the playing field for Iowa businesses by collecting sales tax on Internet purchases from large, out-of-state companies.

• Cutting taxes for low-income, working Iowa households by increasing the state Earned Income Tax Credit.

• Increasing tax credits to encourage local wind energy projects.

U.S. Chamber puts Iowa in the top 10
Iowa ranks in the top 10 for growth, productivity and livability, according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Iowa placed fifth in growth of economic productivity, sixth in per-capita income growth, ninth in exports growth and eleventh in growth of gross state product.

Iowa is succeeding by expanding in business and commerce, with the greatest job increases in management, transportation and warehousing.

The report, Enterprising States: Policies that Produce, ranks states based on long-term and short-term growth, expansion of gross state product, productivity, income growth and livability. To read more, go here.

Saving money, growing jobs with clean energy incentives
It’s been a hot summer so far and Iowans are thinking about more efficient ways to cool and heat their homes and businesses.

The solar energy option will be more economical than ever thanks to the new solar energy tax credits I helped approve this year. Increasing Iowa’s use of solar will help create jobs installing solar projects throughout the state.

Senate File 2342 provides state tax credits for solar electric, solar hot water and geothermal energy systems. Iowans can get solar tax credits up to $3,000 per project for homeowners and $15,000 for businesses.

The legislation also provides a state tax credit up to 20 percent of a federal tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, and a ten-year property tax exemption for any increase in value due to installing a geothermal system.

Let’s level the playing field for local business
As Iowa communities continue to recover from the national recession, we should do all we can to ensure our local businesses have a fair chance to compete.

If a company wants to sell their goods to Iowans, they should play by the same rules as Iowa companies with Iowa employees.

That’s why I believe Iowa needs to collect sales tax on Internet purchases. Failing to collect sales tax from online businesses—some of the biggest corporations in the world—gives them an unfair advantage.

Large, out-of-state companies should help support our schools and community services just like local businesses.

Senate File 2330, which got bipartisan approval in the Senate this year, would have helped level the playing field by collecting sales tax from online companies. This effort didn’t make it to the Governor’s desk, but I’ll continue to fight for fairness for our local businesses.

Recreation is a win-win for Iowa
Lots of families take advantage of the summer to visit the many parks, trails, lakes, rivers and community attractions that make living in Iowa so great.

You can get all kinds of ideas for your Iowa vacation at www.traveliowa.com, the state’s informative, colorful, interactive tourism Web site. You’ll find a calendar of events, regional attractions, places to stay and trip planning tools.

Travel and recreation have a lot of offer Iowans of all ages—and it boosts our economy too. Tourism in Iowa generates more than $6 billion in expenditures annually, supports 62,000 jobs statewide and generates $321 million in state taxes.

During the 2012 session, we worked to increase recreational opportunities stimulate Iowa’s economy by:

• Helping communities promote local attractions

• Investing in watershed projects that improve the quality of Iowa streams, rivers and lakes

• Expanding recreational trails for walking, biking, boating and snowmobiling

So get on out there this summer and enjoy all that makes Iowa a great place to live, work and play!

Your input needed on rest areas
The Department of Transportation (DOT) wants to know what you think of Iowa’s interstate rest areas. Your input will help the DOT plan for future rest area needs. You can take the short survey online at www.IowaDOTRestAreaStudy.com through July 16. Printed surveys will also be available at all rest areas and weigh stations.

Planning grants for watershed projects
Watershed management authorities can apply for a new grant to develop a comprehensive watershed plan to reduce flood risks and improve water quality. Award recipients will receive up to $187,330 and 18 months to develop their plan.

Proposals are due August 24. Complete details on this and other watershed planning opportunities are available here.

Taking care in the summer heat
With the record high temperatures we’ve seen here in Iowa this year, the Iowa Department of Public Health is reminding us all to take precautions in extreme heat and humidity.

Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, but those at greatest risk include seniors, babies and small kids, and people who are overweight, work outdoors or have chronic health problems.

To protect yourself:

• Drink lots of water.

• If you sweat, add salt and minerals to you diet with bananas, salty crackers or sports drinks.

• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

• Wear sunscreen and hats that shade your face.

• Stay in the shade or air conditioned areas.

• Work slowly and stop immediately if you feel weak or dizzy.

For more information on how to best handle the summer heat, go to www.cdc.gov/Features/ExtremeHeat.

Contact Tom
CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report

2012 successes for jobs, education, economy

The 2012 session resulted in some significant successes for Iowans.

We’ve once again balanced the state budget without raising taxes. And we’ve approved measures that will move this state forward, create jobs, grow our economy, increase student achievement and expand educational opportunity.

The Legislature did its best work when we refused to be distracted by divisive issues and instead worked together on the top priorities of Iowans. Highlights include:

** Encouraging economic growth and job creation through targeted business incentives, university-supported business development, and funding for local Workforce Development field offices that help out-of-work Iowans find jobs and local businesses find employees.

** Expanding training to ease Iowa’s skilled worker shortage by developing and enhancing programs at our community colleges, which have a tradition of working closely with local business to meet workforce needs.

** Launching education reform that reinforces the importance of early grade literacy, increases parental involvement, establishes annual teacher performance reviews, expands student assessments, and continues funding for smaller class sizes for kids learning to read.

** Making tuition more affordable at community colleges, state universities and private colleges, as well as expanding tuition grants for returning National Guard soldiers.

** Intensifying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) efforts in K12 schools, along with expanding career-oriented engineering education.

** Jumpstarting Iowa’s solar and geothermal energy industry through targeted tax credits.

** Reforming Iowa’s mental health system to ensure all Iowans receive high-quality services regardless of where they live.

I also voted to increase support for local schools and to significantly cut commercial property taxes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough support to make these investments that so many Iowans wanted.

Thank you to all who took the time to contact me during the session. Your ideas, suggestions and priorities are reflected in many of the bills that made it to the Governor’s desk.

Education budget boosts key job creation efforts

In the last days of the 2012 session, the Legislature approved a bipartisan compromise on the state’s Education Budget that includes key job creation measures.

Most importantly, we voted to boost investment in our outstanding community colleges so that they can help Iowans fill skilled job shortages. When Iowa employers can’t find the skilled workers they need, they’re left with three choices: lose business to competitors, hire from out-of-state, or move their business out of Iowa.

Under Senate File 2321, investment in workforce training will increase to $8 million next year, a hike of 60 percent. That includes $2 million for the new GAP Tuition Fund, which helps Iowans earn certificates in welding, information technology and other in-demand jobs. And $6 million will go to the Accelerated Career Education (ACE) program.

In addition, general community college funding will increase by $13 million, and the institutions will receive an additional $5 million for maintenance.

The Education Budget also boosts funding for Iowa’s public universities by $23 million, an amount the Board of Regents has said will help prevent future tuition increases. Tuition grants for private colleges increase by 4.6 percent, and funds for the National Guard tuition program go up by 7 percent.

By keeping tuition costs down, we increase educational opportunity and make it possible for Iowa’s families to afford a great future for their kids. Ultimately, investing in education and job training helps Iowans become more productive, competitive workers, grows our economy and boosts job creation.

SF 2321 now goes to Governor Branstad for his signature.

Tackling designer drugs

The abuse of harmful “designer drugs” is on the rise in Iowa.

You may have heard of some of these substances, which are concocted in chemistry labs and sold under such names as K2 and spice (types of synthetic marijuana) and bath salts (synthetic stimulants). These drugs have caused an alarming rise in emergency room visits among those who use them.

That’s why legislators have worked with law enforcement to ban these drugs through Senate File 2343, part of a larger effort to reduce dangerous drug use in Iowa.

Bath salts are stimulants that are ingested or snorted to get high. Poison control centers report that bath salts can lead to extreme paranoia, suicidal thoughts, agitation, combative and violent behavior, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and serious injury or death.

The effects of synthetic marijuana, such as K2, spice and Black Blaze, can vary significantly from person to person. Ill effects can include paranoia, agitation, vomiting, seizures, lack of pain response and uncontrollable body movements.

SF 2343 passed the House and Senate and has gone to the Governor for his signature.

Participate in parade to honor vets, service members

A parade called “A Salute to our Veterans and Service Members” will be held on June 30 in downtown Des Moines. The parade is being coordinated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Iowa National Guard and the Governor’s office to recognize the achievements and dedication of Iowa’s service men and women. For more information or to participate in the parade, call the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-838-4692.

2012 Iowa Transportation Map available

Showing roadways, rivers, rail lines and more from Larchwood in the northwest to Keokuk in the southeast, the new 2012 Iowa Transportation Map is now out—and it’s free!

Maps are available throughout the state at driver’s license stations, Department of Transportation offices and Iowa’s rest areas and welcome centers. You can also get a complete Iowa travel packet that includes the new map and 2012 Iowa Travel Guide by calling 1-800-345-IOWA or visit www.traveliowa.com.

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

Courtney Report 27 – April – 2012

Doing more to create jobs for Iowans and grow our state’s economy is still my top priority as the 2012 session winds down.

The Iowa Senate is working to invest $62 million in job creation and economic growth. The Republican-controlled Iowa House, however, is only willing to invest about half that much.

The Senate also agreed that Iowa should help businesses create jobs through targeted incentives. The House does not.

The Senate wants Iowa’s three state universities to keep working with businesses on technology commercialization, marketing, entrepreneurship and technical assistance for businesses.

The House budget, on the other hand, would cut advertising for Iowa tourism and close Small Business Development Centers and Workforce field offices. If the House gets its way, it will be more difficult for Iowans to looking for work and for Iowa businesses to get started, expand and find the employees they need.

I hope we can agree to put job creation first as the 2012 session wraps up. Other efforts to boost our economy that I’m pushing for include:

** Fixing Iowa’s skilled worker shortage. It’s the best thing we can do for our economy, according to business leaders. Partnerships between community colleges and local businesses are a proven way to help Iowans gain the skills needed for hard-to-fill job openings that are locally available right now.

** Cutting commercial property taxes for every Iowa business—especially for small and Main Street businesses—without increasing residential property taxes.

** Requiring more effort to buy American and buy Iowan first when your state and local tax dollars are spent.

** Cutting income taxes for 260,000 working Iowa families by boosting Iowa’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

** Reducing health insurance costs for 60,000 Iowa small businesses with a state tax credit on employee coverage.

** Boosting alternative energy investment through consumer rebates for residential and business solar and wind projects that save money and are environmentally friendly.

Enhancing accountability on economic development projects

The Iowa Senate has voted to increase accountability and transparency when your tax dollars are spent for local economic development.

I support Tax Incremental Financing — better known as TIF — because it is an important economic development tool for cities and counties. After a TIF district is created, the property tax income generated from increased property values in that area are diverted from schools, cities or counties and used instead for economic development efforts in the TIF area.

House File 2460, as amended by the Senate, requires robust reporting, increases transparency and puts some restrictions on how communities use TIF. For example, the legislation would prevent TIF dollars in certain instances from being used to “steal” businesses away from a neighboring community. The bill also ensures taxpayers know how their property taxes are affected by TIF projects.

HF 2460, as amended by the Senate, now goes back to the House for their further consideration.

Open government helps all Iowans

To work well, democracy requires that citizens know what government is doing and why.

In 2007, work began on fundamental reforms of Iowa’s open records and open meetings laws. The goal was to make the proceedings and records of state and local government open and accessible to citizens. The Legislature has now approved Senate File 430, giving Iowans better access to government information and public records.

The bill, which goes to the Governor for his signature, helps make sure officials obey open meetings and open records laws in an efficient and cost-effective way. SF 430 creates the Iowa Public Information Board to address and resolve complaints. The board will provide informal assistance, mediation and settlement, formal investigation of grievances and determination of when violations have occurred.

Keeping Iowa seniors safe

In response to an assault at an Iowa nursing home, the Senate voted to toughen protections for our seniors living in nursing homes and other care facilities.

A sexually violent predator who’d served his sentence was released from a state-run facility directly into a northwest Iowa nursing home. There he assaulted an elderly woman, who was also a resident.

House File 2422, as approved by the Senate, would:
** Prohibit any sexually violent predator from being released from a state-run facility to a nursing home or residential care facility;

** Allow nursing homes and residential care facilities to refuse to admit registered sex offenders; and

** Permit facilities to discharge sex offenders who are current residents.

The legislation also establishes a task force on the need for a nursing care facility specifically for sexually violent predators.

Workers Memorial Day, April 27

During 2011, 43 Iowans died from injuries sustained while working and 10 Iowans lost their lives while serving our country in the military. On April 27, we’ll pay tribute these Iowans and renew our commitment to safe and healthy workplaces for all. A Workers Memorial Day ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at Iowa Workforce Development, 1000 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines. All are welcome to attend.

Vietnam Veterans Ceremony, May 7

On May 7, Iowa will mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and remember those who served. A ceremony will take place at noon at the Vietnam Memorial on the South Grounds of the Statehouse in Des Moines. For more information, contact the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-838-4692 or visit https://va.iowa.gov.

Screen-Free Week encourages healthy activity

Did you know that doctors recommend no more than 2 hours of screen time per day for young children? Yet preschool kids spend on average 32 hours a week watching TV or playing on a computer, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Screen-Free Week from April 30 to May 6 is a time to encourage kids to spend more time away from the screen, in active play that increases their fitness. For further information on Screen-Free Week, visit http://tiny.cc/screenfree.

Travelers recycle at Iowa rest areas

The Iowa Recycles on the Road pilot project, started at eight central Iowa interstate rest areas, has already collected more than 38,000 pounds of bottles, cans and other drink containers. At a recycling facility in Des Moines, they’re processed and shipped to factories, where the materials can be used to manufacture new beverage containers and other recycled products.

Iowa Recycles on the Road encourages recycling by making it easier for drivers to help reduce litter and keep Iowa beautiful. The Iowa Department of Transportation hopes to expand the program to an additional 32 rest stops that serve more than 13.2 million drivers each year.

Apply for state boards, commissions

Local Iowans are encouraged to apply for a position on one of Iowa’s boards and commissions. These panels advise the Legislature and Governor on a variety of issues of statewide importance.

Citizen participation is what makes our democracy strong. Those who volunteer their time, knowledge and skills in this important capacity help to build a stronger, brighter future for all Iowans.

Twenty-five boards and commissions have about 125 positions opening up on June 30. To view all boards and commissions and to learn more about the work they do and how to apply, go to www.openup.iowa.gov.

BOARD WITH POSITIONS OPENING UP JUNE 30

Agricultural Education, Council on

Arts Council, Iowa

Brain Injuries, Advisory Council on

Building Code Advisory Council, State

Centennial Memorial Foundation, Iowa

College Student Aid Commission

Criminal Justice Information Systems Advisory Committee

Developmental Disabilities Council, Iowa

Early Access, Iowa Council for

Fire Service and Emergency Response Council

Health, State Board of

Historical Records Advisory Board, State

Historical Society of Iowa Board of Trustees, State

Homelessness, Iowa Council on

Independent Living Council, Statewide

Juvenile Justice Advisory Council

Medical Assistance Advisory Council

Preserves Advisory Board

Public Broadcasting Board, Iowa

Student Loan Liquidity Corporation

Terrace Hill Commission

Uniform State Laws, Commission on

Vertical Infrastructure Advisory Committee, Iowa

Vocational Rehabilitation Council

Volunteer Service, Iowa Commission on

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report

 

Retiring Senate President Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg helped create Iowa’s nationally recognized community college system. I’m working closely with him so Southeastern Community College and Eastern Iowa Community College as well as other community colleges can do even more to ease Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers. Business leaders say that would help grow Iowa’s economy. Unfortunately, deep cuts in state funding over the last 10 years have caused sharp increases in tuition and fees, according to a new report by the Iowa Fiscal Partnership.

 

Act now to keep Iowa’s economy growing

The recent report of rising state revenues is another sign that Iowa’s response to the national recession is working. Our economy is improving, and now’s the time to strengthen the foundations of a lasting recovery.

When the deep national recession hit, we reduced the annual state budget by hundreds of millions of dollars by reforming and downsizing state government and putting the focus on job creation and long-term growth.

We’ve made a good start, one that has put Iowa ahead of other states. Now is the time to invest in education, job creation and other opportunities to build a strong Iowa economy for the future.

Local Iowans to serve on state boards, commissions

This spring, Governor Branstad appointed many local Iowans to serve on boards and commissions. These statewide panels are responsible for advising the Governor, the Legislature and state agencies.

Most of the members are regular Iowans from all parts of the state. Their participation is what makes our democracy strong. Thank you to all who volunteer their time to build a stronger, brighter future for all Iowans, including:

** Real Estate Commission: Carol Haines, West Burlington

** Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Commission: Thomas Greene, Burlington

To learn more about Iowa’s boards and commissions and how you can serve, go to http://openup.iowa.gov/boards/.

Nuclear Power
Controversial legislation to fund a new nuclear power plant will lead to significantly higher electrical rates if legislation to build a new nuclear power plant becomes law. That was the message I and other legislators brought to a Statehouse news conference on March 20. The legislation puts consumers at risk in order to finance a project that Wall Street investors see as too risky. See video from the event at http://youtu.be/eLMcqWT0W7w.

Education reforms to prepare students for 21st century jobs

I share Governor Branstad’s education goals of raising academic standards, improving the effectiveness of educators and using innovation to enhance learning.

As we choose the best ways to reach these goals, my colleagues and I are listening to parents, teachers, students and concerned Iowans. Their suggestions are the basis of the education reforms contained in Senate File 2284. This legislation is still a work in progress but key elements include:

** Focusing on early reading and small class sizes in the younger grades so that teachers can help struggling students catch up.

** Helping students learn at their own pace to master the basics and advance more quickly in the subjects they love most.

** Expanding the core curriculum to include arts, music and technology.

** Expanding teacher-to-teacher collaboration and coaching.

** Using online learning to enhance and extend offerings in our local schools.

** Pilot projects to extend the school year and school day to measure the impact on student achievement.

** Parent liaisons for schools with struggling students.

I am passionately interested in creating world-class schools here in Iowa. I believe that by working together, we can take several steps forward this year to provide Iowa students with the best educational opportunities.

Please continue sharing your ideas as we build on what our schools do right and improve in areas where we can do better.

Community colleges can help strengthen Iowa’s economy

Iowa’s skilled worker shortage hurts our state’s economic growth. Governor Branstad and I agree on that point.

To solve the problem, we need to change direction. Specifically, we need to make it easier—not harder—for Iowa workers to improve their skills.

Since 1991, enrollment at community colleges has more than doubled to nearly 106,000. At the same time, a 21 percent drop in state investment has made getting an education more expensive for Iowa families by forcing sharp increases in tuition and fees.

We need to turn this trend around. Our community colleges already work closely with Iowa businesses to identify local and statewide needs. Our community colleges have shown they can help Iowans gain the skills to fill those job openings and earn industry-recognized certificates in welding, technology, direct care and other areas.

Given that record of success, it’s time to ask community colleges to do more. That means providing enough state funding to get the job done, without making tuition unaffordable.

As the 2012 session winds down, I’m working with my colleagues in the Legislature on the best ways to grow Iowa’s economy and create jobs. At the top of my list is more investment in Iowa’s community colleges. This is a win-win opportunity for Iowa businesses looking for employees and Iowa workers looking for jobs.

For a new report on how funding is impacting our community colleges, go to the Iowa Fiscal Partnership Web site.

Bipartisan effort restores help to unemployed Iowans

Unemployed Iowans will continue to get the help they need, thanks to an agreement by the Senate, the House and Governor Branstad to restore funding to Iowa Workforce Development and ensure all remaining field offices stay open through the end of the current fiscal year.

Senate File 517, approved with overwhelming, bipartisan support during the 2011 session, included specific funding to keep open dozens of local workforce offices. These offices help Iowans search for jobs, prepare for interviews and improve their skills, while helping businesses find the qualified employees they need.

Governor Branstad item-vetoed restrictions and conditions on appropriations in the legislation that would have kept all 55 workforce field offices open. Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Governor’s veto was illegal, making all funding for the Department of Workforce Development void.

While the agreement to restore funding to Iowa Workforce Development cleans up the immediate mess created by the Governor’s illegal veto, it will be difficult to repair all the damage. For example, I am skeptical about the effectiveness of offering essential employment services through computer kiosks, and am looking at reopening some of the closed workforce offices where they are most critically needed.

Part of Iowa’s recovery from the national recession includes doing the best job possible to help unemployed Iowans find work.

April is National Donate Life Month

Iowa is consistently recognized as one of the most “donation friendly” states in the country when it comes to organ and tissue donation. Sixty-seven percent of adult Iowans are registered donors—much higher than the national average of only 33 percent.

Almost 113,000 Americans currently wait for a life-saving organ transplant. Over 630 of those people are Iowans. More than 100 people can benefit from one person’s decision to be an organ and tissue donor.

During National Donate Life Month, I encourage you to register aws an organ, tissue and eye donor by marking “yes” to donation on your driver’s license or identification card. You can also register online at www.IowaDonorRegistry.org.

Young people wanted for Youth Council

The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council is currently taking applications for its 2012-2013 council. The council is made up of young people between the ages of 14 and 20 with an interest in government. Members will gain leadership and civic engagement experience, training and opportunities to network.

Applications received by May 1 will receive priority consideration and new council members will be selected by June 30. For more information and how to apply, visit www.icyd.iowa.gov/SIYAC.

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report

Iowa veterans deserve our support

On January 18, hundreds of veterans from around the state visited the Iowa Capitol to meet with legislators. I was pleased to welcome local veterans to the Senate and listen to their concerns and ideas.

Throughout the day, veterans had the chance to meet Adjutant General Timothy Orr of the Iowa National Guard, Commandant David Worley of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Todd Jacobus, chair of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, and Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs executive director Jodi Tymeson.

In recent years, the Legislature re-established the Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure bipartisan work toward meeting the needs of those who serve. This year, we continue to explore opportunities to support Iowa veterans and their families, enhance existing services at the state and county levels, and help returning service members make a smooth transition back to civilian life.

Iowa troops who are in harm’s way and those who’ve served over the decades deserve our gratitude and dedicated support.

Ensuring Guard members get promised education benefits

The first bill approved by the Iowa Senate this year will help our National Guard soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan get the college tuition assistance they were promised. Senate File 2007 invests an additional $1.3 million in the Iowa National Guard tuition assistance program.

Helping Iowa’s returning soldiers attend college and improve their skills makes a lot of sense. We want these young people qualify for good jobs at good wages and help build a stronger Iowa economy.

Last month, the Guard told us that the dollars available for tuition assistance would fall short due increased demand among returning soldiers hoping to get a college education. In fact, the average grant fell from 90 percent of tuition to 50 percent. The cuts went into effect for the spring semester, which meant that Guard members currently enrolled in college classes had to find other sources of assistance to pay their bills.

If the Iowa House also approves the legislation and Governor Branstad signs it, the benefit to soldiers at Iowa’s universities would be up to $1,300 per semester in additional aid.

Ensuring our soldiers get to go to college was a good start to what hopefully will be a productive session focused on training a skilled workforce and creating jobs for all Iowans.

Increasing safety for school children

Each year children die because drivers fail to obey school bus laws. A bipartisan bill in the Senate aims to keep Iowa kids safer when getting on and off their school bus.

This legislation was proposed after the tragic death of Kadyn Halvorson of Northwood. Kadyn was killed while crossing the road to board her school bus.

Current law prohibits drivers from passing a stopped school bus that has its lights flashing and the stop arm out. Yet every year, hundreds of drivers violate this law and endanger the lives of children heading to school and home.

“Kadyn’s Law” would enhance the penalties for unlawfully passing a school bus by increasing fines and giving the court the option of sending the offender to jail. The bill also calls for the Iowa Department of Transportation to conduct a study of how best to increase school bus safety for children.

State funding improves local libraries

Local Iowa libraries play key roles in literacy, workforce and economic development, lifelong learning and entertainment. Iowans use their libraries to find jobs, do homework, apply to college, learn about medical treatments, access government information and more.

Every day, more than 55,000 Iowans walk through the doors of public libraries in our state. According to Iowa Library Services, more than two-thirds of all Iowans have active public library cards, and use of our libraries increases each year.

A new report showing how state funding improves our libraries is available at www.statelibraryofiowa.org/go/EnrichIowaFY11. Have a look and see how our local libraries used the state funding they received for 2011 to improve their services.

News you can use
Radon in your home causes cancer

January is National Radon Action Month, a good time for Iowans to make themselves aware of the risks of radon in their homes and how to protect their families. According to the Iowa Radon Coalition, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Seven in ten Iowa homes contain elevated levels. This is an unnecessary risk when you consider that radon is easy to test for and to mitigate. Tests cost as little as $10 and are simple to perform. Learn more about testing for and fixing a radon problem here: 

Keep Iowa Beautiful offers scholarships

Keep Iowa Beautiful is offering up to four $500 scholarships to Iowa high school seniors in 2012. Iowa students enrolling in an Iowa college or university and planning to major in community enhancement or environmental studies are eligible to apply. The application deadline is February 7. For complete details, go to

World Food Prize opportunity for students

The World Food Prize is hosting the first annual Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University on April 30. Schools nominate students to participate in the event. Those nominated by their school must submit a research paper addressing a global issue concerning hunger and poverty by April 1. Those selected to be a part of the Iowa Youth Institute may earn the chance to attend the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute, apply for the Borlaug- Ruan International Internship, apply for the USDA Wallace-Carver Internship and receive an Iowa State University scholarship. To learn more, visit here.

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report

Thanks to everyone who shared their concerns, ideas and hopes with me in 2011. Your input helps shape what happens in the Legislature.

Last session, the bipartisan effort to provide every Iowa four-year-old with high-quality early education was at risk of being shut down. When Iowans got involved, they made it clear that Iowa’s preschools should stay open.

Iowans also told us that job skills and economic opportunity for workers and businesses was their top priority. In the Senate, we responded by approving a variety of jobs measures, including help for the small businesses that create jobs. Some of those bipartisan ideas became law. Others are still on the front burner for the 2012 session, which begins January 9.

Creating jobs and a strong economy means providing quality public education at every level. That’s how Iowa wins the jobs of the future—jobs in renewable energy and in the global economy.

As I prepare for the next session, it’s clear that the economy is what matters most to the people I represent. While unemployment in Iowa is lower than most other states, it’s still too high.

Fortunately, Iowa’s state government is in good shape. We’ve got more than a half-billion dollars in our rainy day funds, and last year’s budget ended $400 million in the black. That means we’re in a great position to invest in job creation and improving education.

Thanks again to those who take an active part in making our state a better place to live, work and raise a family. If you didn’t contact me this year to put in your two cents, I hope you will in 2012.

A victory for job seekers

A recent court decision overturning Governor Branstad’s veto of a bipartisan effort to keep 36 local workforce offices open is a victory for out-of-work Iowans.

As our state recovers from the worst national recession since World War II, the Governor’s decision to close dozens workforce offices could not have come at a worse time. Many of those offices are in rural communities with some of the highest unemployment rates in Iowa.

I’m always looking for ways to save money and become more efficient when it comes to state services, but closing employment offices when 100,000 Iowans are looking for work is like laying off firefighters and closing fire stations when your town is burning down.

Senate File 517, approved on a bipartisan vote during the 2011 session, included specific funding to keep local workforce offices open in Iowa. These offices help Iowans find jobs, prepare for interviews and learn new skills, and they help businesses find qualified employees. No wonder the overwhelming majority of Republican and Democratic legislators voted to keep them open.

Let’s focus on putting Iowans back to work and strengthening the middle class, not making it harder for Iowans to find a job.

Creating jobs with a small business tax cut

Tough times mean Iowa’s small businesses aren’t able to create the jobs Iowa communities need. One smart way to help small businesses grow is to cut their property taxes.

A Senate proposal to cut commercial property taxes was approved during the 2011 session by a bipartisan vote of 46-4. While the Senate plan gives every business a commercial property tax cut, it focuses on helping small businesses the most. In fact, the Senate plan slashes commercial property taxes for four out of five businesses by 45 percent.

One reason commercial property tax reform has been stalled for years is that property taxes provide stable support for local services, such as schools, roads, police, fire, libraries and economic growth. Under the bipartisan Senate proposal, these services are protected by a dollar-for-dollar state-funded tax credit. Unlike competing proposals, there is no shift of the tax burden onto residential property taxpayers. This has made our Senate proposal popular among property taxpayers, as well as business, school and community leaders.

To start creating jobs again, Iowa’s small businesses need help. The Senate’s plan to cut commercial property taxes provides that help without giving millions in tax breaks to huge out-of-state corporations.

I’ll be working this spring to convince the Iowa House and Governor Branstad to join the Senate’s bipartisan effort to cut taxes for our small businesses.

Program takes girls from classroom to Capitol

Iowa high school girls can win a chance to spend a day at the Statehouse and learn how laws and budgets are developed and approved. The third annual Capitol Girls program will take place in Des Moines on February 8. The event gives students an inside look at the Iowa General Assembly by pairing them with women legislators for the day. To participate, girls must complete an application available at www.women.iowa.gov/just_for_girls and submit it via e-mail to women@iowa.gov or by fax to 515-242-6119 by January 13.

Students can help ‘Write Women Back into History’

To celebrate March as Women’s History Month, Iowa students are invited to enter the 28th annual Write Women Back into History Essay Contest.

Students in grades 6-9 are encouraged to choose a woman, preferably from Iowa, past or present, and write about her accomplishments and how she made a difference for the better. Essays are due by January 27. Winners will be honored during a ceremony at the State Capitol, and cash prizes will be awarded.

The competition is sponsored by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, the Iowa Department of Education and the State Historical Society of Iowa. Complete details are available here: For more information, contact Lori Schrader-Bachar at 515-281-4470.

Protect yourself when buying online

With the holidays upon us, it’s good to take extra precautions if you shop online. Here are a few tips to follow:

>> Don’t use public computers for your online shopping. They could have malware that steals your credit card information when you place your order.

>> Look for the “lock” icon on your browser’s status bar and be sure “https” appears in the website address before making an online purchase.

>> Never e-mail credit card information, as there is potential for other people to access it.

In addition, you’ll want to make sure that your computer has the latest security updates installed, that your anti-malware software is running, that you’re using the most recent version of your Internet browser, and that you’ve checked your browser’s security settings.

For more information, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s new publication about shopping online here:

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov
senate.iowa.gov/courtney

The Courtney Report: The Fight For Education Pays Off


Iowa families will continue to have easy access to high-quality, free preschools for four-year-olds. Governor Branstad has announced he now supports the popular statewide preschool initiative that has made Iowa the envy of the nation in recent years.

This victory was won by grassroots Iowans. During the 2011 session, thousands wrote to legislators and the Governor in support of high-quality early childhood education. Last month, when experts at the Iowa Education Summit complimented Iowa’s preschool program, they were answered with thunderous applause from 1,700 educators, parents, grandparents and students who came to represent their communities.

It looked like Iowa preschools were on the chopping block when the 2011 legislative session began. First, House Republicans voted to completely eliminate preschool for four-year olds. Then, Governor Branstad proposed a complicated voucher system that would have cut funding by half, while doubling administrative costs.

I refused to give up the fight. We had visited preschools, talked with parents and teachers, and knew the program worked. More than 60 percent of our kids now have access to high-quality preschool, compared to just 19 percent before the program started. Today, 22,000 Iowa children are getting their education off to a great start in preschools at public school, private schools and churches all across the state.

The Governor finally heard what we’ve been saying all along: “Don’t abandon Iowa’s future!” By working together, we took one more step in our efforts to make Iowa an ever-better place to live, work and raise a family.

Fight for education pays off

I fought hard for our local students and schools this year in the Legislature. I joined Iowans from across the state who spoke out against deep cuts to education at all levels, cuts that would limit the future of the next generation and of Iowa’s economy.

Educating our young people and helping workers improve their skills are smart investments in Iowa’s future. As we dig our way out of the lingering national recession, slashing education just didn’t make sense.

Fortunately, Iowans made their voices heard. That’s why, in the end, our students and schools fared much better than initially expected.

We reached a bipartisan compromise (SF 533) to maintain Iowa’s successful voluntary preschool initiative. The Legislature finally acknowledged that closing preschools would only hurt middle-class families already struggling in today’s tough economy.

A two-year starvation diet for our schools—no new money for K-12 for two years in a row—was rejected. We won a 2 percent increase in basic state aid for local schools for next year. That should help ease the damage our local schools may suffer from NO new state money this year, something that has never happened before.

We maintained our commitment to increasing student achievement through the Iowa Core Curriculum, which provides all Iowa children with high-quality educational opportunities. It is strongly supported by Iowa’s local school officials, parents and teachers.

The cuts to our nationally-recognized community colleges were reversed, making it possible for Iowa workers get the training they need to fill skilled-job openings at local businesses (HF 645 and HF 648).

We also resisted efforts to eliminate Iowa’s Area Education Associations (AEAs), which help special needs students and provide services to improve teaching and student achievement.

Finally, the Legislature voted to increase accountability and transparency for your tax dollars. HF 645 would have required education-related, taxpayer-funded organizations (like the Iowa Association of School Boards) to comply with open meetings and open records laws, and to be subject to regular audits and whistleblower protections. In addition, school districts would need to show taxpayers how much they spend on services through these organizations. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad vetoed this important taxpayer protection.

In the end, the fight for education paid off. We weren’t able to do as much as we’d hoped for our students and schools, but we did take big steps forward from initial demands to sharply cut funding for community colleges, eliminate universal preschool, and impose two years of no new state dollars for local schools.

Going ‘Back to School’ with students and teachers

Getting young people involved in civics and democracy is one of my favorite parts of being a state senator. That’s why I’ll be joining our local students and teachers in their classrooms this school year.

The “America’s Legislators Back to School Program” brings state legislators into classrooms to meet personally with young constituents, answer questions, share ideas and listen to concerns. The goal is to give students—the nation’s future leaders—a firsthand look at how representative democracy works, and to let them know that their ideas count.

This year, more than 1,300 state lawmakers will visit with an estimated 320,000 students in schools across the country. The Back to School Program is sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Trust for Representative Democracy.

I’m setting up my fall visits now. If you’d like me to come to your school, please give me a call or send me an e-mail.

Iowans offer ideas for improving students achievement

Education is one of our most important investments because it’s about our children and our future. I could tell that Iowans agree with that statement when they came out in force for the Iowa Education Summit recently.

The event was well attended by parents, educators, representatives of Iowa’s business community and lawmakers. Everyone was eager to share their ideas for improving on the tradition of educational excellence for which our state is known.

One theme that came up over and over was the importance of preschool in preparing youngsters for success in school and in life. I’m committed to maintaining and investing in the high-quality preschool program we’ve developed here in Iowa in recent years so that every family can enjoy a great start for their kids.

Collaboration and cooperation were also emphasized at the Education Summit. As Iowans, we may have differences on some issues, but ultimately we all share the same goal: a world-class education for our children. If public policy-makers, the governor, business and industry, educators and parents work together, we can achieve great things for our students and for our future.

A new 40-person STEM Advisory Council will provide one of those opportunities for working together. The Council will offer input on ways to promote greater student achievement and career opportunities by strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in Iowa schools. To find out more about the STEM Advisory Council,  go here:

I’m excited about continuing to build on the solid foundation our schools offer. We have good local schools and some of the best educators in the country. But there is always room to improve. We need to support our educators with quality training and leadership opportunities, and to ensure all Iowa students are ready to succeed in the global economy.

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2200 Summer Street
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.state.ia.us

www.senate.iowa.gov/courtney