Category: View Point

ViewPoint: Lawmakers: Don’t take away our energy independence

By Katie Rock, Center for Rural Affairs
A group of state lawmakers allied with Iowa’s biggest investor-owned utility to introduce House Study Bill 185. This bill would limit the ability of farms and individuals to produce their own electricity. While other Midwest states are blazing a trail in expanding solar power generation, House Study Bill 185 would set Iowa back as consumers look to cut costs and become energy independent.
Net metering allows customers with energy production systems, like solar panels, to be compensated for the excess energy they provide to their neighbors, often during peak times when demand and rates are highest. The proposal would allow investor-owned utilities to charge homeowners and businesses that have these systems with additional fees, discouraging these projects and making them cost prohibitive.
With net metering, demand increases for solar energy systems—creating jobs for designers, installers, electricians, and equipment suppliers in Iowa’s renewable energy industry. The solar industry provides more than 800 jobs in communities across the state, a number that continues to grow as the price of solar energy drops. An estimated 86 percent of solar jobs in the U.S. are for homes and businesses with only 14 percent in the utility sector. Net metering is critical for these Iowa jobs.
Iowa has always been a leader in renewable energy, but is missing out on an economic opportunity with solar—Minnesota’s solar energy capacity has more than quadrupled in four years, and Illinois’ capacity is growing even faster. To join our neighbors in harnessing the benefits of solar energy, Iowa should reject this regressive legislation.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

ViewPoint: New state assessments to be introduced to students in spring

New state assessments to be introduced to students in spring
By Dr. Jon McKenzie
In 1935, the “Iowa Test of Basic Skills” (ITBS) were first administered in Iowa. Students in grades six through eight completed the ITBS tests in subjects such as reading comprehension, spelling and mathematics. These assessments were state of the art. Continuing with level of excellence the “Iowa Tests of Educational Development” (ITED) were developed in 1942. They were first administered to students in grades nine through 12, and again in subjects such as reading comprehension and mathematics. Generations of Iowa students completed these tests and they quickly became recognized as nationally accepted standardized basic achievement tests across grades K-12.
Students across Iowa, the United States and other countries continued to complete these fill-in-the-bubble, number two pencil tests annually. Updates were made over the years, but the names (ITBS and ITED) remained the same, as did their purpose. The tests measured student academic achievement across a variety of subjects for multiple generations. Eventually in Iowa, they were also used for accountability purposes during the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.
The next updated version of these assessments was called the “Iowa Assessments.” These tests were first administered in Iowa in 2011. Again, their purpose was to measure student achievement across a variety of subjects and grade levels and for NCLB accountability purposes.
The newest version of these tests, developed at Iowa Testing Programs, will be called the “Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress” (ISASP). These tests will be administered in Iowa starting in the spring of 2019. However, there are only a few similarities between the newest version and the later versions. If desired, students are still able to use a number two pencil when filling in the bubble answer sheets when testing in reading and math in grades 3-11, and science in grades five, eight, and ten. However, this is where the similarities end.
There are many upgrades with these new tests. For instance, students will be able to complete all tests using a computer. In addition, a writing test will be added to these assessments in grades three through 11. Further, thanks to impressive improvements in scoring technology, all tests can be scored using technology, including the writing tests. The content of these tests will be aligned to current standards being taught across the state.
Additional improvements with these online tests include a variety of useful tools built into the computer operating system that will aid students when taking the tests. These tools will help students with special needs, English Learners, as well as all other students better demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Some of these tools include a text to speech option, built in highlighters, enlarged print, as well as some Spanish versions. More state of the art updates are scheduled in the future, such as an adaptive versions of the test.
In a few shorts months, current Iowa students will be the first to sit for the new ISASP assessments. However, at this time, there is still work to be done before Iowa students can use these tests to demonstrate what they know and are able to do.
In a few short years, these different versions of assessments (ITBS, ITED, IA, and ISASP) may serve Iowa students and educators for 100 years! It is unlikely that any other state can make such a claim.
Dr. Jon McKenzie is the Director of Assessment & Comprehensive Improvement with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA). He can be reached at jmckenzie@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA supports educators, parents, and the communities we serve as we work together toward one ultimate goal: to improve student learning. We provide support in the areas of quality classroom materials, curriculum planning, best practices in teaching and learning, safe and caring learning environment, appropriate educational opportunities for all learners, technology planning, professional learning, assessment, special education, leadership development, and more. Learn more at www.centralriversaea.org.

Working Together to Improve the Lives of Everyday Iowans

By Iowa House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard
The 2019 Legislative Session is well underway. I’m excited about the opportunities this year to work together and address some of the challenges facing our state.
As the Leader of Iowa House Democrats, our caucus is proposing several ideas that will improve the lives of everyday Iowans.
First, we need to make health care affordable and accessible for Iowans by fixing Iowa’s broken Medicaid system. Medicaid currently provides health care services to about 600,000 Iowans who are primarily elderly, have a disability, or children who don’t have insurance.
Since privatization began, my colleagues and I consistently hear concerns about the out of state companies managing Medicaid. Iowans have died. Health care providers aren’t getting paid. Too many Iowans are being denied care or struggling to get the care they need.
That’s why House Democrats are offering a plan this session to protect our most vulnerable citizens who need long-term services and support (LTSS) because of chronic illness, aging or a disability. These Iowans need help with daily tasks like taking medication, bathing, dressing, and eating. Unfortunately, this population is disproportionally impacted by Medicaid privatization.
Many Iowans with disabilities have been denied critical services and equipment, kicked out of their current living arrangements because of reimbursement issues, or had to switch case managers who understand their complex needs best.
The bill we filed will move these vulnerable Iowans out of managed care, to not only improve their access to health care, but also make it more affordable.
Since these citizens who need long-term care account for around half of all Medicaid expenditures, the state can realize significant savings because the costs under privatization have risen dramatically.
Second, education is also an area where lawmakers can work together to improve life for everyday Iowans.
For decades, Iowa was the model for education in the country. However, over the last decade, anemic state funding for schools hasn’t kept up with rising costs and led to school closings, rising class sizes, and fewer opportunities for students. The shortfall in funding has been especially acute in rural areas that are also facing declining enrollment.
That’s why House Democrats are working on a plan this session to make education in Iowa the best in the country again. Here’s what we’ll be working on this session:

Approve a 3% boost in state funding for schools. It’s a reasonable amount the state can afford and will begin to reverse the declines we’ve seen with low funding.
Expand access to quality preschool. Countless studies have proven that preschool not only saves taxpayer money in the long run, but dramatically improves the likelihood of success in school and a job later in life.
Equalize funding for schools and make it permanent because every kid in Iowa deserves the best education, regardless of where they live.

I’m hopeful we can work together and find bipartisan support for these ideas this legislative session. Our kids deserve it and it is the key to producing a highly skilled workforce.
While we’ve got a lot of work to do this session, I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish this year. House Democrats are ready to put politics aside, listen to Iowans, and do what’s best for people again.
If we can stay focused and work together this year, we have a real opportunity to improve the lives of everyday Iowans.
Feel free to contact me with your ideas by email (todd.prichard@legis.iowa.gov), phone (515-281-3054), or through social media (Twitter: @RepPrichard; Facebook: Todd.Prichard.Iowa) to share your ideas and thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.

ViewPoint: Pushing educators beyond traditional boundaries

By Amy Moine, Central Rivers AEA
Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA) is on a mission to help the educators we serve be the leaders of the most inspired and innovative schools in the nation. And we’re doing it through professional learning designed to push them to think beyond traditional boundaries of what school should look like.
The Lead, Inspire, Innovate Series is a line up of workshops presented by experts in education and supported through job embedded practice, coaching and feedback from Central Rivers AEA consultants. The purpose of these workshops is for our educators to have an opportunity to hear inspiring messages from experts in the field so that they can lead in more innovative ways that will enhance learning and success for all students.
Since September, over 750 educators have participated in this year’s series. The 2018-19 roster includes experts in the fields of communication, technology, student mental health, school culture, peer coaching, and “growth” mindset. Many speakers have spoken previously to Fortune 500 companies and international audiences.
One of the most popular speakers this year has been Dr. Shannon Suldo, a leading expert in the field of adolescent mental health. Unfortunately, nearly every school district served by Central Rivers AEA has indicated an uptick in the number of students with challenging behaviors and mental health concerns. Many educators find themselves unequipped to deal effectively with these challenges which can create undue stress for all involved. Suldo presented strategies for supporting students with these concerns and also provided information on how to bolster positive mental health and well-being in all students. Dr. Suldo’s presentation was followed up by a workshop by J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D., the Director of Think:Kids in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Associate Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ablon provided evidence-based practices to help educators break down challenging behaviors and problem solve solutions that help children improve with dignity and respect.
These two workshops alone have resulted in improved relationships between many educators and students and provided hope around a difficult topic.
Interested in knowing what our presenter roster looks like for the 2019-2020 school year? Visit our website at centralriversaea.org and click on “Lead, Inspire, Innovate Professional Learning Series.” We invite you to learn more about how Central Rivers AEA is serving the schools in your community.
Amy Moine can be reached at amoine@centralriversaea.org.

ViewPoint: Why a national marijuana law could be closer to reality in 2019

By Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish
So far, the task of loosening marijuana laws has been left to individual states to implement. But that changed when the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives last month.
“The states have been carrying the water for the pro-marijuana forces for several years but that may finally start to change,” says Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish (www.sarahleegossettparrish.com), a cannabis industry lawyer. “The federal government is about to get involved in a big way. Uniform national marijuana laws are certainly now on the table.”
Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has already laid out a blueprint to advance national marijuana legislation. Blumenauer’s plan could begin as soon as Democrats take the gavel next month, he says. His strategy would include starting to move the 37 bills currently unable to make it to the House floor under Republicans onto committee schedules, for hearings and proposed legislation.
Here are some of the House committees that could be looking at marijuana issues and what they would be considering:
The House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Blumenauer wants the House to “deschedule” marijuana. It is currently labeled a “Schedule 1” drug, the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use.” Cannabis advocates have been trying to change that classification since 1972.
House Veterans Affairs Committee. Hearings may be held on proposed legislation to give veterans access to medical marijuana.
House Financial Services Committee. The focus would be on banking changes. Right now, cannabis businesses are unable to use banks, causing them to be an all-cash business, which makes them more susceptible to robberies and violence. There are many other advantages for cannabis producers if they could have access to banking institutions.
Further optimism about the future of passing national marijuana laws is due to two major roadblocks being removed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired by President Donald Trump and Texas Rep. Pete Sessions was defeated by Democrat Colin Allred. Although Jeff Sessions had more of a national profile, Rep. Pete Sessions was arguably more important for pro-marijuana forces to remove since he was chairman of the powerful House
Rules Committee. He has been credited with keeping almost all marijuana legislation from reaching the floor of Congress for a vote.
“No marijuana bill could get a floor vote under Representative Sessions,” Parrish says. “He was probably the biggest legislative roadblock to comprehensive national marijuana legislation. Now that he is gone, there is a lot of optimism that many of these bills may finally get a vote.”

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