Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. April 29, 2022.

Editorial: Southwestern teacher sets example even amid terminal cancer

Saturday’s story about a Southwestern Middle School teacher battling cancer was a tearjerker, to be sure.

Tina Wright, a fixture at the Hazel Green, Wis., school for three decades who has taught more than 1,000 students, is in the fight of her life against a devastating lung cancer diagnosis. As a teacher who’s used to talking honestly with students, Wright made a point of continuing that frank approach when she told her students that her battle likely would be terminal.

Middle-schoolers aren’t immune to life’s harsh realities. The student body stepped up to rally in support of their teacher. In a 60-second dash around the gymnasium, students raised more than $2,000 at a basketball game to help fund Wright’s travel expenses during treatment. Fundraisers and events continue with the whole community reaching out to help.

Our thoughts go out to Wright, who is teaching her students one more lesson — this one about courage and grace. A big salute to the Southwestern family supporting and lifting up in her time of need this devoted educator.

Though the number of homes in the Dubuque area with lead paint is declining, the number of kids getting tested for lead exposure is also falling, and that’s dangerous.

It’s critical that parents seek testing for lead exposure for all children until the age of 6, especially if they live in homes built before 1978.

In Dubuque County in 2020, only 20.5% of children age 6 and younger were tested for lead, slightly lower than the state average of 22%.

Neighboring counties reported slightly higher testing levels — 27.3% in Jackson County and 24.2% in Delaware County. Clayton County reported fewer tests at only 19.1%.

For children younger than 6, lead poisoning can affect growth and development, including damage to the brain and nervous system, hearing and speech problems and learning and behavioral problems.

Parents can’t see or detect lead poisoning, and there’s no safe level of lead poisoning. The only way to determine exposure is by blood test, which can be done at a physician’s office or the Visiting Nurses Association.

A simple test can head off a highly dangerous childhood illness. Contact the VNA at 563-556-6200 or visit https://bit.ly/3ESMXJK.

After a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, more than 150 people gathered in Dubuque this week for the annual breakfast fundraising event for Compass to Care: The Mike and Sandy Ernsdorff Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Founded by Michelle Ernsdorff-May in 2010, Compass to Care provides financial support to cover travel expenses for children requiring out-of-town cancer treatments. The foundation pays for gasoline, lodging, airfare and parking, among other related expenses.

This is exactly the kind of support that families dealing with childhood cancer can really use. Add soaring inflation to the challenges, and this specific kind of help addresses a critical area of need for area families.

A nod to Ernsdorff-May and the Compass to Care team for continuing this effort for more than a decade. Today, the foundation supports treatment-related travel for about 200 children. That’s a tremendous blessing in the community. To donate or for more information, go to compasstocare.org.

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Des Moines Register. May 1, 2022.

Editorial: Editorial: Standoff over school choice is an inflection point for Iowa’s future

It’s entirely consistent to oppose public money going to private schools while supporting Medicaid dollars being spent at private hospitals or scholarship grants that can be used at private colleges.

If Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to permit up to 10,000 Iowa children to use tax money to attend private K-12 schools becomes law, the state’s public schools won’t immediately wither.

Educators will work hard to re-balance class sizes and teach any student who comes in the door, just as they have while enduring a pandemic, lean budget years and high-profile criticism of their moral judgment.

But if the proposal becomes law, a die will have been cast. The state’s singular commitment to making a robust public education available to every child will be breached, with about 1.6% (for now) of school funding redirected to private institutions. Untangling such a program even after its folly becomes apparent will be complicated if not impossible. Public school boards, administrators, faculty and other workers will have more difficulty than ever before plugging the holes.

This issue is holding up the conclusion of this year’s legislative session. Despite holding overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, Republicans are struggling to muster enough support to pass one of Reynolds’ top priorities. The Iowa Senate has already approved the bill creating student scholarships/education savings accounts (advocates have not settled on the most palatable branding) with just one defection from their 32-member caucus. But among the 60 Republicans in the House, at least 11 have publicly expressed trepidation about the proposal, according to a tally published by the conservative Iowa Standard blog.

The holdouts are right to fret about the consequences of forking over $55 million or more to private schools’ coffers. They’re listening to concerns of public school leaders. Those leaders admittedly have a significant bias in this debate, but they know they have precious few tools for paying for staff, facilities and services outside the Legislature-managed per-pupil funding formula — especially compared with private institutions that set tuition rates and undertake massive fundraising campaigns.

The pros and cons of the plan are well-trodden ground. In fact, this is the editorial board’s second crack at the issue in three months. But at this critical stage, we want to surface a few new points and reinforce some others.

Private schools are unevenly distributed in Iowa

The effect of this legislation would vary wildly in different regions of the state. Iowa is divided into nine Area Education Agency districts for the provision of various services. The Northwest agency includes about 8% of the state’s students; about 18% of Iowa’s private school buildings are within its boundaries. In contrast, the Green Hills agency, covering portions of southwest Iowa, also has about 8% of the state’s students, but only 3% of private school facilities are located there. Even at that, half of those private schools, including the only high schools, are in Council Bluffs. It seems unlikely that families from Bedford, Diagonal or Mount Ayr will trek there or to the plentiful Des Moines-area private schools. Altogether, 76 of Iowa’s 99 counties have no private high school.

Scholarships would be available to the relatively well off

The means test for eligibility for scholarships is generous — a family of four could earn up to about $111,000 annually. While it’s correct to say the legislation could provide new options to the poorest Iowa families, it might also serve to simply free up some disposable income for families who could fit private school tuition in their budgets. Even without receiving public money, private schools often provide substantial tuition assistance to needy families.

Proper education for children is part of our social compact

It’s entirely consistent to oppose public money going to private schools while supporting, say, Medicaid dollars being spent at private hospitals or scholarship grants that can be used at private colleges. Health care and higher education function differently from K-12 education and can’t always be directly analogized. Ensuring proper education for all children is part of our social compact, and that obligation is embedded in the Iowa Constitution: to “provide for the education of all the youths of the state.” A more apt comparison is with the tax-supported police and fire protection available to everybody, regardless of the degree to which any particular resident makes use of those services.

The permutations for how the school choice standoff at the Statehouse could play out are many. But any compromise offer that Democrats and holdout Republicans receive that retains this dangerous idea should be rejected.

Extend the session into sweltering summer days. Start the new fiscal year in July without a state budget. Whatever consequences would follow, they would be more tolerable than cracking the foundation of Iowa’s tradition of quality public education.

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