Views from across Iowa
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Jan. 14
Legislature should be involved in decision on Iowa Juvenile Home
Considering the impact the Iowa Juvenile Home can make in a girl’s life and the impact it has on its community, the Iowa Legislature should have been involved in any discussion about closing the facility. That was not the case.
When members of the home’s staff visited The Courier’s editorial board recently, they said they believe Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer decided to close the facility in short order, and before the legislative session, to prevent any organized response.
Now a lawsuit has been filed that seeks to block the plan to close the home.
The Des Moines Register had reported on problems at the home. Reports noted that at least three girls were held in empty, concrete cells for months at a time.
Todd Sprague, a youth services worker, said girls end up in isolation if they are deemed dangerous to peers, staff or themselves. He noted that new rules put in place require that residents in such a room, which is free of objects that could present a risk, are seen face to face at least every 15 minutes.
Nancy Purk, a nurse at IJH for 27 years, said girls also continue to receive psychiatric care and other needed services if placed there.
Some voice their opinion that there was a concerted effort behind the scenes to encourage the disparity between the number of staff at the Toledo facility and the number of youths being referred to stay there.
As of last year, the site averaged about 50 girls in residence. At the time of the closure announcement there were 21. There are 93 staff members who provide education, medical and psychiatric care while operating the facility 24 hours a day.
Then, there is the money that has been invested recently in this institution. Since 2004, nearly $25 million of state money has been spent on the home’s infrastructure. That includes a new vocational building with security and health facilities. A geothermal heating and cooling system covers every building on campus.
The other question on the horizon: Is the boys’ home in Eldora also endangered? If so, then another small community could lose another major employer and anchor. If not, then this could become a gender equity issue.
The quick closure has left advocates believing they haven’t received a fair chance to adequately respond to reports and allegations. It also has us feeling as if the full story has yet to emerge. We question the governor’s decision. It would be wise for the Department of Human Services to reveal its plan.
Enabling a broader discussion throughout the Legislature would have been, and still could be, a good way to ensure that correct decisions are being made concerning the home. Iowans deserve as much.
That direction also could have prevented a lawsuit.
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Telegraph Herald, Jan. 19
Iowa lawmakers have work to do
As the debate over minimum wage heats up in Iowa as well as other states and at the federal level, it has the distinct feeling of an issue that Democrats want to talk about to drum up votes in an election year. The likelihood of seeing a minimum wage bill passed in Iowa is nil.
Here’s hoping the 2014 legislative session isn’t wasted on political posturing. The state has plenty of work to do.
Following what by all accounts was a highly productive session last year in the Iowa Legislature, lawmakers don’t appear to be setting the bar too high this year. When Gov. Terry Branstad gave his Condition of the State report last week, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said afterward that he “didn’t hear anything” he disagreed with. While that bodes well for a session free of partisan gridlock, it also suggests a lack of groundbreaking initiatives. And that seems to be OK with lawmakers, who have to get out and win elections this fall.
That’s not to say the Legislature should be looking to blow the nearly $1 billion budget reserve that the state has accrued. Branstad’s budget proposal includes no costly new initiatives and holds the line on allocations to state agencies, except for some pay raises. The governor is right to be conservative in spending. Tapping into the ending balance should be reserved for making good on 2013 session promises to make local governments whole for last year’s property tax cuts and to pay for education reform changes.
But after last session’s successful bipartisan efforts to tackle those issues that had loomed for years, Iowans would like to see that momentum continue. The failure of the fuel tax to meet the state’s growing infrastructure needs is a prime example of an issue that demands a resourceful and bipartisan solution. Tax increases tend to completely disappear from the conversation in election years (as if voters forget everything that happens in odd-numbered years.) But lawmakers need to take the lead and make this discussion go somewhere. We can’t keep putting off road construction and repair. Legislators should consider a modest gas tax increase and at the same time consider expanding the funding model to address the increasing number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.
Iowans were proud of the work lawmakers did last session in moving several big initiatives forward. But pride will quickly turn to disappointment if voters see legislators mark time this session trying to avoid any issue that might negatively impact their re-election campaigns. Though we have elections every other year, voters expect legislators to get things done every year.
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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 17
UI right to be slow in jumping on MOOC train
To their supporters, MOOCs (massive open online courses) represent a grand, democratic (with a small “d’’) breakthrough in higher education. By making lectures and other course material available online for low cost (often free), MOOCs were designed to make higher educational affordable and accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a drive to learn.
And some colleges and universities — so enamored with the revolutionary potential of such a grand experiment — embraced the forum as the inevitable evolution of the large, introductory, lecture hall class. Students no longer would be bound by traveling to a specific place, at a specific time, to hear a specific lecture from a specific person, but they would be free to join such virtual learning communities at their own time, from their own place, motivated solely by their own initiative.
The University of Iowa, to its credit, has been somewhat cautious in its adoption of this oddly named educational opportunity. Rather than make elaborate plans for replacing the good work already being done in the university’s colleges and Department of Continuing Education, UI officials decided to move much more deliberatively. While other schools starting implementing a phalanx of MOOC offerings years ago, UI’s first official MOOC — “Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’” — doesn’t begin until next month.
Given the grand democratic vision behind MOOCs, it seems appropriate that UI’s first offering should focus on a 19th-century poet who so passionately celebrated American democracy. The six-week course, which will run from Feb. 17 to March 29, offers participants the opportunity to read, consider and discuss Whitman’s epic poem through video lectures, live breakout sessions and moderated online discussions.
The MOOC format also offers the perfect forum for showcasing the expertise of the two course instructors: Ed Folson, a UI English professor and highly regarded Whitman scholar, and Christopher Merrill, the director of UI’s International Writing Program. Last year, the pair collaborated on creating a web version of “Song of Myself” that — in addition to their commentary on each of the poem’s 52 sections — features new translations of Whitman’s work in more than a dozen languages. The “Every Atom” MOOC allows Folsom and Merrill a chance to introduce the classic poem to an even broader, global audience.
UI, however, seems to be jumping on the MOOC train at the same time many one-time MOOC supporters have grown disillusioned with the format. Recent studies suggest that — rather than help bring detailed information to a previously unaware audience — MOOCs don’t do a very good job teaching people how to learn. Instead, they are most successful with people who already have experience with higher education in some form.
In hindsight, it’s easy to say that there was no way MOOCs could have lived up to their initial hype. But such online offerings have expanded the discussion about how public universities can best fulfill their educational role in an Internet Age. And we’re glad to see UI now positioning itself to be able to learn from the successes (as well as the failures) of such experiments at other schools.
As Whitman once observed, “For not only is it not enough that the new blood, new frame of democracy shall be vivified and held together merely by political means, superficial suffrage, legislation, &c., but it is clear to me that, unless it goes deeper, gets at least as firm and as warm a hold in men’s hearts, emotions and belief, as, in their days, feudalism or ecclesiasticism, and inaugurates its own perennial sources, welling from the centre forever, its strength will be defective, its growth doubtful, and its main charm wanting.
For more information about UI’s first MOOC, visit courses.writinguniversity.org/info/every-atom.
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Sioux City Journal, Jan. 18
Warning about traffic camera revenue raises questions
For reasons of local public safety, we have supported red-light cameras in our community and we have supported speed cameras on Interstate 29 while construction was taking place.
We haven’t viewed the cameras as a money grab by the city, as have critics.
A story in the Sioux City Journal gave us pause.
In the story, Interim City Manager Bob Padmore told the City Council $4 million was removed from the proposed fiscal 2015 city budget due to uncertainty about future use of the cameras. He said the city may need to raise taxes, increase fees, make cuts, implement layoffs or use some combination of those options to replace the lost revenue.
Whoa, hold on here.
If red-light and speed cameras truly are about public safety and not about money, then why has our city in the past planned and budgeted for millions in revenue from them to the point where it may have to raise taxes to replace those dollars?
Because they are controversial, shouldn’t the city have considered the possibility the cameras might at some point be taken down and not become dependent on the money they produce through fines?
At the very least, if the cameras were working as intended by making drivers better at stopping for red lights and slowing down in a construction zone, shouldn’t the city have been anticipating the amount of money they generated would decline over time?
The city shouldn’t have relied on camera money to this extent and shouldn’t have used the money for ongoing expenses. Rather, the money should be viewed as extra cash and used only for special, one-time expenditures, particularly in the area of public safety.
Padmore’s warning to the council feeds the oft-heard criticism about how these cameras are all about the city wanting more money. That’s troubling.
As for the idea of raising taxes to replace camera revenue? Well, that’s ridiculous.