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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 26, 2015 at 9:01 am •  Published: January 26, 2015
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Branstad's state bureaucrats are uninterested in the thoughts of locally elected board members. The new rules call for "scientifically based" or "peer-reviewed" data to seek an earlier start date.

Of course, Branstad's Department of Education didn't even try to suggest that September start dates provide better education. No scientific basis or peer review. The driver for this change is all about keeping kids out of school for the Iowa State Fair and the state's late summer tourist spots.

Lake Okoboji hotel and tourist attraction owners love it.

"Not starting schools until after Labor Day, or the week of Labor Day, is the greatest thing that's happened to us in years and years and years," said Butch Parks, owner of Parks Marina in Okoboji in an interview with Sioux City's KITV.

Legislation is needed to resume the time-honored Iowa practice of letting school boards set dates based on feedback from parents, students and education professionals.

Iowa school superintendents — including our Iowa Q-C superintendents — unanimously support continuing local control.

"The more the state of Iowa does stuff like this the more they take away the powers of local education boards," North Scott superintendent Joe Stutting told Times reporter Jack Cullen.

Even state education director Brad Buck wants legislators to weigh in. "I would love a legislative solution and a compromise with the governor," Buck said.

When Branstad's own appointee seeks "a legislative solution," we can guess that lawmakers will oblige and stop this unnecessary power grab.

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Telegraph Herald. Jan. 21, 2015.

Upon further review, regents' plan short-sighted

The more we learn about the Iowa Board of Regents' proposed restructuring of how the state's three public universities are funded, the less we like it.

We editorialized on the plan a month ago. We like the idea of the University of Iowa, especially, putting more effort into encouraging more of the state's best and brightest high schoolers to stay in Iowa for college.

We also liked the idea of boosting Iowa Tuition Grant funding to the state's private colleges, which are vital to Iowa and without which the state's public universities would burst at the seams.

Last but not least, our community colleges, including Northeast Iowa Community College, address several important needs, both for students who will later matriculate at four-year colleges and for others who pursue important skills training for a wide range of trades and professions. They are a sound investment.

However, upon closer review, we see in the regents' plan some unintended consequences. Lawmakers should scrutinize the proposal and recognize that this plan is not in the best interests of the state over the long term.

While it is true that competition — in business, athletics or other endeavors — can provide incentives for higher levels of performance, the regents' plan is flawed in that it creates "intramural" competition with winners and losers based on measurements that are not the most important.

The state's three public universities — University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Iowa — are pitted against each other for larger slices of the funding pie. And this "pie" is less about educational quality and fulfilling the institution's mission and more about boosting in-state enrollment.

While raising the stakes might well cause the institutions to "up their game" in recruiting — the University of Iowa certainly has gotten the message — the rewards come at the expense of their sister universities. The pie is no bigger; it is just sliced differently.

Hotter competition for Iowa students among the public universities, especially when those universities offer easy scholarship money, is likely to hurt enrollment at the more than two dozen private four-year colleges that make Iowa home. That roster includes local institutions Loras College, Clarke University and University of Dubuque.

A system in which Iowa universities poach students from other in-state institutions — public and private — creates expensive competition with little or no promise of delivering what Iowa ultimately needs, more students at all of its colleges.

Consider the University of Iowa's establishment of the Iowa Heritage Award. It grants $1,500 per year, up to $6,000 total, to all incoming first-year and transfer students who have a parent, step-parent, grandparent or legal guardian who received any UI degree. Now, why does the public have to spend up to $6,000 per student to incent them to attend one of the nation's leading (and most economical) public universities? Maybe the $6,000 should go to a student who doesn't have a close relative who attended UI. Being more aggressive and localized in recruiting is one thing, but throwing money around is another.

In addition to the unnecessary expenditure of tax dollars, what else is the problem facing Iowa? Jobs — filling the workforce vacancies that Iowa has today and is projected to have for years to come.

Experience shows that it is easier to recruit someone for a job in Iowa when he or she attended college in the state. Enrollment losses at non-regents schools does not bode well for Iowa's prospects of meeting employers' workforce needs.

Those workforce recruitment efforts won't be getting any easier in Iowa, which is losing population and is one of the nation's "oldest" states.

Funding for higher education and the skills training that community colleges provide needs to be a legislative priority. It is not only about education — it's about bolstering the foundation of Iowa's economy through a vibrant and prepared workforce. That means helping all colleges in the state, not pitting them against each other.

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Sioux City Journal. Jan. 25, 2015.

Prospects grow for action on roads, bridges

A meeting our editorial board held with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday left us confident the Legislature will pass and Branstad will sign a compromise bill on more funding for transportation infrastructure this year.

Branstad believes a bipartisan package of proposals, including a gas tax increase, will emerge earlier, rather than later in the session. He also believes components of the package will begin in the next fiscal year rather than be phased in over a period of years.

If he's right, and we hope he is, Iowa's deteriorating system of roads and bridges (including, perhaps, Highway 20) is in line for a significant, immediate - and, in our view, essential - boost in 2015.

According to the Department of Transportation, the annual deficit for road-and-bridge needs in Iowa is almost $1.5 billion; for critical needs, more than $200 million. Iowa ranks second worst in the nation for the number of "structurally deficient" bridges, according to the Federal Highway Commission.

In our discussion, Branstad pointed to the results of a consultant's report on the state released last month as one reason why the issue appears to have more traction within the Statehouse this year. The Battelle Report cites physical infrastructure as an area of state weakness in need of improvement for economic development.

Battelle (a nonprofit, independent research firm located in Columbus, Ohio) was commissioned by Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress — the state's CEO-level, industry-led advisory board created by Branstad in 2011 — and the Iowa Business Council to provide the state with an economic development strategic plan for the future. The 18-month, $400,000 study was privately funded.

"Physical infrastructure remains a prerequisite for economic development," according to the report. "In fact, in Site Selection magazine's 2014 survey of corporate real estate executives, 'Transportation infrastructure' ranks first on site selectors' list of the most important location criteria.

"The declining condition of Iowa's highways and reduced availability of highway improvement funding through the existing gas tax is now among the top concerns of industry executives across the state." (The report cites broadband service, one of Branstad's legislative priorities this year, as another infrastructure concern.)

Concluded the report: "... it's clear that advancing Iowa's physical infrastructure is imperative to realizing the state's economic potential."

We have advocated for an increase in the state's gas tax as a way for Iowa to meet its fundamental responsibility to provide a safe, modern system of roads and bridges, but we remain open-minded to additional or alternative ideas under study and consideration in Des Moines.

Bottom line: We do not wish to see the issue pushed off for still another year. Simply put, it's too important.

Rhetoric from Branstad and state lawmakers in the weeks leading up to this year's legislative session gave us encouragement this will be the year for action in some form. Nothing we have read or heard since the session began, including our discussion with Branstad, diminishes our optimism.