Iowa City Press-Citizen. Feb. 14, 2014.
Don't leave schools in the dark about state funding
It must be nice to be state lawmaker. Whenever there's a law that you don't feel like following, you can just vote to change it.
And that's exactly what the Republican-controlled House of Representatives tried to do Thursday — which was the legal deadline by which state lawmakers were supposed to set the allowable growth rate for public school districts for 18 months out.
The Democratic-controlled Senate already passed a bill calling for a 6 percent increase in school funding for the 2015-16 school year. The House — rather than start negotiations to ensure they would be in compliance with the two-decade-old law that requires them to set the rate within 30 days of the governor releasing his budget — voted Thursday to change the process so that lawmakers would set allowable growth rates only every other year.
The measure passed the House on a nearly party-line vote. And if brought to a vote in the Senate, the measure is likely to be shot down in a similarly party-line manner.
There are good reasons why state law requires the allowable growth rate to be set 18 months out: namely because school districts benefit from stable and predictable funding and because school funding should be a bipartisan priority rather than a partisan hot potato. If lawmakers had decided to follow the law, school districts now would know what to expect in 2015-16 regardless of which party gains/holds a legislative majority in November's general elections.
The current delay and its accompanying uncertainty especially hurts those growing districts in the state that are planning to bring new schools online within the next few years. And leaving districts in the dark means they have to prepare for the worst.
Iowa City Community School District leaders, for example, currently are deciding how to trim $3.6 million from next year's budget. Superintendent Stephen Murley said officials plan to cut most of the spending by not filling open positions left by staff members who retire or resign this year.
To avoid a shortfall next year, at least $1.36 million of those cuts still would need to take place regardless of any funding decisions made by state lawmakers. But the district also is trying to set aside money to cover the longer-term expenses of opening new schools in the next few years. If lawmakers actually would follow the law and tell the district know how much state money it will receive per student in 2015-16 (and how much total money it can spend per student that year), then the district wouldn't have to let nearly as many open teaching positions go unfilled next year.
Given how much ground the state needs to make up in funding public schools, we think the Senate Democrats' proposed 6 percent is a good opening salvo in negotiations. And rather than try to change the rules in the middle of the game, it's time for the Republican leaders to actually start negotiating so that they can be in compliance with the law and school officials can continue with their long-term planning.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Feb. 13, 2014.
Time to build this pipeline
Throughout his term as president, Barack Obama has insisted his administration could not allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian oil to the U.S. unless the State Department signed off on it.
Recently, the State Department revealed — at last — that it can find no reason to believe the pipeline would be detrimental to the environment.
Some environmentalists hate the pipeline proposal — but they have not been able to come up with a reasonable objection to it, either.
Time's up, Mr. President. Your list of excuses for blocking the pipeline has been exhausted.
The pipeline should be built, of course. It will provide thousands of jobs and an inexpensive source of oil for the United States. Now, Obama has no choice but to say "yes" to that - or to reject the pipeline solely to placate the radicals.
Telegraph Herald. Feb. 14, 2014.
Insurance mandate delay just more political maneuvering
Companies with 50 to 99 employees that have been sweating out compliance with the insurance mandate component of Obamacare this week received a reprieve. The deadline was pushed back another year.
President Obama might want businesses to think that the postponement was in response to their concerns about the coverage requirement. But it likely far more Machiavellian than that.
If small businesses this fall were to be deep in the throes of trying to bring their companies into compliance with the insurance mandate, well, that would be excellent timing for Republican candidates in the 2014 election. Members of the GOP already are planning to make the problems with Obamacare the centerpiece of their campaigns with charges that the law is a "job killer." Those words would have a lot more bite in a commercial showing a worker saying, "I lost my job thanks to Obamacare."
But now, those tough decisions have been pushed off, conveniently, until after the midterm elections. The coverage requirement deadline is now Jan. 1, 2016.
Not only does the reasoning behind the extension seem a bit duplicitous, it technically isn't legal. The new rules announced Monday by Treasury Department run afoul of an act of Congress. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act decrees the mandate provisions apply after Dec. 31, 2013. Though the Treasury Department claims it has the authority to extend the implementation timeline, Republicans renewed their complaint that the administration can't just tweak an act of Congress in this way. Federal courts routinely uphold explicit deadlines set by Congress in other matters. This one seems to get special treatment.
All of this makes it hard to ascertain whether Obamacare really has the potential to succeed. So far it has been dogged by a wretched rollout, delays and rule changes. At what point will we get to the action so we can see what changes need to be made?
The Obama administration's stalling tactic on implementation just pushes off what is sure to be a big headache for business. That officials did so to curtail the anticipated shellacking Obamacare will receive in election ads is even more troubling. If Obamacare is to stand as law, it's time we get a sense of what it will really mean for American workers and businesses.
The Des Moines Register. Feb. 15, 2014.
Pursue legislative fix for juvenile home
All involved in the debate over the future of girls formerly housed at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo say their No. 1 concern is the welfare of children. They will have a chance to prove that in the coming weeks.
A bill expected to be considered by a Senate committee this week is a way to create safe shelter for troubled girls who otherwise could fall through the cracks as a result of Gov. Terry Branstad's abrupt closing of the Toledo home.
The draft proposal should at the very least serve as a place to begin discussions between legislators and the governor. All parties should put aside partisan rancor and keep their minds open to what is best for these girls.
The draft legislation approved by a Senate human resources subcommittee last week would create a secure facility for girls adjudicated as delinquent by a judge and assigned to a state training school. It would not accept juvenile girls who are under court jurisdiction as a child in need of assistance, meaning the facility would house only 20 to 25 girls.
The facility would be operated by the state rather than by a private provider. It would have to be accredited by the American Corrections Association and inspected by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
State-certified classes would be provided through a local school district. The state would continue to provide a continuum of services after girls emerge from the training school when they reach age 18.
"I think this is a great solution," said Jerry Foxhoven, a Drake University law professor and expert in juvenile law. Foxhoven chaired the task force the governor created last year to study the Juvenile Home. "It solves the problem," he said of the Senate proposal.
That problem is the challenge the state now faces in placing juvenile delinquent girls following Gov. Branstad's order closing the Juvenile Home in December.
The governor's decision was appropriate. It came in response to The Des Moines Register's reports on mistreatment of juveniles at the home by employees over the years, including extended isolation in barren cells, physical abuse and a failure to provide adequate educational services for the girls.
The governor was rightly outraged about the treatment of juveniles at the home and the culture of the facility that allowed it to go on for so long. But his abrupt closure of the Toledo facility left the Department of Human Services scrambling to provide shelter and services for about 21 girls who remained in the home. Most of those girls were placed in public and private facilities, and six were sent home. Some of those six have apparently since run away.
The failure to arrange for permanent placements was an unfortunate consequence of the governor's decision. And, while there are acceptable placement options for many girls who would otherwise be assigned to the Iowa Juvenile Home, there is no good alternative for girls who are assigned by a judge to a secure facility that is one step short of adult incarceration.
This legislation would fill that gap in a way that appears to cure many of the problems at Toledo.
The challenge will be to get the governor to agree to what might look like backtracking. That would be more likely if the legislation has broad, bipartisan support and if it stays away from the issue of where to locate such a facility. This legislation should be a place to begin a discussion about a mutually acceptable location rather than bid by lawmakers to reopen the Toledo home.
A potential stumbling block is a lawsuit involving the Juvenile Home that is now playing out in court. A Polk County judge ordered the home reopened after a group of Democratic legislators and a labor leader challenged the governor's authority. The legal issues raised in that case, which is now before the Iowa Supreme Court, should proceed. The question needs to be resolved about where to draw the line on a governor's power to close state facilities created and funded by the Legislature.
However that legal issue is resolved, the Legislature and governor should work toward finding common ground on how best to provide services to delinquent juvenile girls. The legislation on deck this week is a place to begin finding that common ground.