Republican budget would eliminate Iowa Flood Center

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee restored about $1.2 million of this funding on April 12. Added more details below.

The Republican education budget proposal would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. According to an e-mail from Professors Witold Krajewski and Larry J. Weber, enclosed in full below, the cut “will have a devastating impact on the Flood Center’s ability to continue to provide flood prevention and real-time flood support to communities, businesses, emergency managers, public works professionals and citizens.”

In addition to ending the Iowa Flood Information System, zeroing out the flood center’s budget would “jeopardize Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal Iowa Watershed Approach HUD [Housing and Urban Development] grant and the Center’s ability to continue to implement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.”

Republican lawmakers have been negotiating behind closed doors on appropriations bills that will likely be approved in quick succession during the next two weeks.

Although the education appropriations bill has not been published, to my knowledge, the Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today at 2:00 pm to discuss (and probably approve) the GOP-agreed budget numbers. Iowans should urgently contact Republicans who serve on that subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers. UPDATE: Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press published photos of the proposed education budget: page 1, page 2, and page 3.

Iowa lawmakers created the country’s “first academic center devoted to the study of floods” in 2009, following the previous year’s devastating natural disaster.

The IFC is now actively engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state; have developed a library of flood-inundation maps for several Iowa communities; and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain map for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

UPDATE: A number of readers have speculated that Republicans may want to shut down the flood center to disrupt a major watersheds project, which might influence public discourse on land-use policies or climate-change impacts in Iowa.

Also, I learned this morning that Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom is the outreach and community education director for the flood center, as well as doing the same work for the University of Iowa’s Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research. Bolkcom is the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been a relentless critic of GOP budget policies this year.

SECOND UPDATE: GOP State Representative David Maxwell copied me on his e-mail to Professor Larry Weber, saying, “Not all of us are in favor of defunding the Iowa Flood Center. I will not have the final say, but I will make my thoughts known to someone who will have an effect on the bill.” Keep contacting House and Senate Republicans. A reader told me that bringing up the threat to Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal HUD grant may be a particularly effective talking point.

THIRD UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

During an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Dolecheck said if the University of Iowa wants to keep the Iowa Flood Center open, administrators can shift funds from elsewhere in the university’s operating budget.

Larry Weber of the Iowa Flood Center said the center provided invaluable projections for Iowans who were bracing for flooding last year. “We shut down a Google Map server because the traffic to the Iowa Flood Center was so intense during the run-up of the crest of the flood coming to Cedar Rapids,” he said, “so many people using that data wanting to see what the extent of the inundated would be, what the water depth on their property would be.”

FOURTH UPDATE: Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register, “The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment Wednesday that would restore $1.2 million for the program by transferring $250,000 away from a National Guard educational assistance program and transferring another $950,000 out of general aid to the University of Iowa. […] Dolecheck, who is co-chair of the subcommittee that oversees the education budget proposal, said the Senate already is on board with the amendment and plans to adopt it.”

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Michael Bousselot for Congress in IA-02? I really don't think so.

Pat Rynard speculated yesterday about four possible GOP challengers to Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district. Republicans spent very little money trying to unseat Loebsack last year but have signaled they plan to contest this race in 2018. House Democrats added Loebsack to their program for vulnerable incumbents.

Rynard didn’t mention Dr. Christopher Peters, who lost in IA-02 last year by less than 8 points despite getting in the race late and being outspent by a considerable margin. I expect Peters to run for Congress again in 2018.

For today, I want to focus on Governor Terry Branstad’s chief of staff Michael Bousselot, whom Rynard dubbed the “most interesting name to surface so far” as a possible challenger to Loebsack. “Were Branstad to put his political machine in to action for Bousselot […] the young staffer could quickly become the front-runner in a primary race where access to big donors is key,” he noted.

No doubt a lot of Republican money would get behind Bousselot if Branstad gave the word. But I can’t see this guy making a lot of headway against Loebsack.

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University of Iowa reinstates scholarships to undergraduates

The University of Iowa has decided to reinstate scholarships to undergraduates who were informed recently that they would lose promised funding. I enclose below an e-mail many students received this morning from President Bruce Harreld.

Two students had already filed class-action lawsuits over the university’s decision to terminate five scholarships in order to save some $4.3 million. A trial pitting the university against children of alumni would be a public relations nightmare. In addition, Harreld would have had to explain under oath why university officials wrongly claimed last week to have warned current scholarship holders that awards were contingent on state funding levels.

In today’s message to students, Harreld noted,

Over the past few days we heard from many families who were unaware this was a renewable scholarship reliant on state support. While this was not a need-based award, we also heard from families who budgeted for college based on the scholarships and feared financial hardship with the programs’ elimination.

The University of Iowa takes its relationship with students and alumni very seriously and, therefore, will honor the awards previously made to those currently receiving this scholarship. […]

Moving forward we must continue to place a priority on need-based and merit-based awards, which is why the Iowa Heritage Award will no longer be offered to new students who start at the university in 2018.

I also enclose below a statement released by the university.

UPDATE: Added comments from James Larew, the attorney representing plaintiff Jenna Pokorny.

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Read the first lawsuit over revoked University of Iowa scholarships

University of Iowa undergraduate Ben Muller filed a class action lawsuit today in Polk County District Court, charging that the university “revoked its scholarship offers to Plaintiff and the putative class without warning, without due process, and without just compensation.” Muller is among 3,015 undergraduates who learned last week that the University of Iowa was discontinuing five scholarship programs to help cover losses in state funding. Scroll down to read the full seven-page court filing, which alleges multiple violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In a news release also enclosed below, attorney Steve Wandro described the university’s action as “not only immoral, but illegal as well.” Jon Muller, the plaintiff’s father, said, “What has occurred here is insane. My son’s decision to attend the University of Iowa was partially based on his being awarded a scholarship.”

Attorneys have scheduled meetings in West Des Moines and Iowa City this Saturday for “students, parents of students, and interested alumni to discuss their concerns and legal options.” The press release includes details on meeting locations and times.

The plaintiff is asking for a jury trial. A Facebook page created to support a class-action filing has nearly 250 likes.

My hunch is that University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and his advisers will come up with a face-saving way out of this mess before Muller and other members of his class have their day in court. A trial pitting the university against students, most of whom are children of alumni, would generate massive terrible publicity.

After Harreld figures out how to cover the $4,343,699 the university planned to save by canceling the current students’ scholarships, he needs to deal with an extra $1,237,500 reduction in state funding before June 30. The Branstad administration announced additional mid-year cuts to higher education last Friday.

UPDATE: Added below details on a second class-action lawsuit that undergraduate Jenna Pokorny filed in Johnson County District Court on February 27.

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3,000 University of Iowa students will pay the price for Republican budget policies

See important update below: Jon Muller questions whether the University of Iowa “committed an act of scholarship fraud.”

Three weeks after Governor Terry Branstad signed into law large mid-year budget cuts for Iowa’s state universities, some 3,015 incoming or current students at the University of Iowa learned that they will be picking up part of the tab.

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Republicans deliver worst month ever to Iowa students and educators

For all their talk about helping Iowa provide a “world class” and “globally competitive” education, Iowa Republicans are unwilling to provide the resources public schools need to keep up with rising costs.

And for all their talk about getting “better teachers in the classroom” and giving “hardworking teachers … all the tools necessary to succeed,” Iowa Republicans seem determined to discourage people from pursuing a teaching career in this state.

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