Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. May 22, 2022.

Editorial: Find a way to keep free school lunch for kids going permanently

Ensuring that children don’t go hungry is morally good, full stop. But the benefits of putting reasonably nutritious food in front of children do not stop there.

Americans will get what they pay for with school lunches.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal policy has allowed for everybody to eat free lunches at U.S. schools. Unless something changes, the conditions that existed before the pandemic will mostly return for the 2022-23 school year. The features of that school lunch system include:

— Onerous paperwork for many low-income families to fill out to receive free and — reduced-price meals. Advocates point out that this barrier could be worse than ever in the coming year because families have gotten out of the habit of filing the forms.

— A constant need for school nutrition workers to track eligibility and hunt down payments instead of concentrating on procuring (no small matter during supply disruptions), preparing and serving meals.

— A breeding ground for bullying as children inevitably figure out which classmates don’t pay for meals, not to mention which families forget or fail to keep their accounts current.

— The prospect of children going hungry because of unpaid bills, even if they should have been eligible for fully subsidized food.

None of that needs to happen. This COVID accommodation should be made permanent. The need was apparent before the pandemic and shows no sign of abating.

In fact, the scheduled expiration of the extended program next month is particularly poorly timed. COVID-19 remains a significant threat and disruption. Food prices were up almost 9% year over year in March.

Legislation before Congress could at least extend the expanded lunch program for another year, which should be an easy call for lawmakers.

But independently of that debate, policymakers at the federal and state levels should be crunching numbers to figure out how to keep providing one of the most basic human needs in a fashion that’s far more efficient than the old way.

The price tag is significant, yes. The national school lunch program cost over $14 billion in the year that ended in September 2019, before eligibility was expanded.

Ensuring that children don’t go hungry is morally good, full stop. But the benefits of putting reasonably nutritious food in front of children do not stop there.

Some large cities had already made free lunch available to all students. A Syracuse University study of what happened after New York City switched in 2017 tied the policy change to increased academic performance of students. Several states, including Minnesota, either have already decided to continue providing lunches to everybody or are considering such efforts.

In Iowa, Des Moines Public Schools has announced that all its students will continue to receive free meals next fall, regardless of what happens at the national level. This was possible because of the high proportion of Des Moines families that make less or only a little more than poverty-level income, a situation that isn’t present in much of the rest of the state. But that does not at all mean this is a minor issue in other communities.

More than half of students would have been eligible for free or reduced-price lunches during the current school year in 28% of the nearly 1,300 public school buildings in the state, according to state Department of Education data. In over 60 buildings, the proportion eligible was at least 80%. (Thirty-two of those buildings are part of the Des Moines district.)

Statewide, just over 40% of students are eligible. Thanks to a 2010 overhaul of the school lunch program, free meals already can go to everybody at buildings with particularly high proportions of eligible students. The same “windfall” that higher-income families at those schools receive — a few hundred dollars per child — can be offered to families at other schools, too. It’s a very reasonable trade-off for wiping out once and for all the scourge of lunch shaming, and for doing away with means-testing applications that undocumented immigrants might not fill out for fear of attracting attention.

School districts should not divert, or need to divert, instructional dollars toward lunch costs. It makes sense for the federal government to provide a nationwide solution. But if Congress doesn’t find a way forward, Iowa’s legislators ought to consider their $1 billion surpluses and invest in the children whose well-being and academic achievement they claim to care so much about.

___

Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. May 18, 2022.

Editorial: A grateful nod to greyhound racing as era ends

“And, they’re off ...”

That common refrain has echoed off the backwaters of the Mississippi River for 37 years as dogs shot out of their boxes and leaned left, rounding the curves of Dubuque’s greyhound racing facility. Sunday marked the last day of racing in Dubuque and the end of an era.

Area residents turned out during the final days of racing to take in the atmosphere one last time. For many, it was steeped in nostalgia. Although the heyday of dog racing has passed, and the number of local attendees and bettors had continued to dwindle over the years, the community won’t soon forget what greyhound racing once meant to the city and the pivotal role the track played in turning Dubuque’s fortunes.

Forty years ago, when the Dubuque economy was struggling mightily and the city was experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the nation, a plan emerged that would bring hope, excitement, jobs and visitors to the community. Dubuque went to the dogs, as T-shirts back in the day said. Citizens voted to tax themselves, and some civic leaders even took out second mortgages, so this community could secure a license for pari-mutuel greyhound racing.

Most people around here know what happened next.

Opened in June 1985, the city-owned Dubuque Greyhound Park, operated by the nonprofit Dubuque Racing Association, became a key element in the community’s turnaround. Its success meant more than money raised for local charities, new jobs and a boost for ancillary businesses. The track’s success reached into the hearts and minds of this community. During the dark days of the mid-1980s, Dubuque Greyhound Park became a shining light, a confidence-building beacon signaling that, working together, Dubuquers could recover from adversity.

In recent years, however, the story is quite different. The ledger shows that pari-mutuel racing, once a financial and psychological boost, became a fiscal drain for this community. After years of pari-mutuel greyhound racing being a money-losing proposition, Dubuque’s Mystique Casino & Resort — now Q Casino and Hotel — and the casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, reached a settlement allowing the casinos to sever ties with the greyhound industry in 2014.

As part of this deal, Council Bluffs agreed to pay an annual $4.6 million subsidy to Iowa Greyhound Park through 2022, while Q Casino agreed to pay a yearly subsidy of $500,000 through 2021.

It was those subsidies that allowed the park to stay in the black thus far. But greyhound racing never managed to make it on its own.

Thirty-seven years have brought enormous change to Dubuque, now a leading tourism destination with an economy that is growing and diversifying. That evolution was helped along by the can-do spirit and partnerships forged in the building of Dubuque Greyhound Park. As we mark the end of an era, we acknowledge that the time to end racing in Dubuque has come, but also that it was pari-mutuel greyhound racing that helped fuel Dubuque’s recovery.

END