A constructive proposal to improve Iowa's AEAs

A mother of a child with disabilities speaks to members of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31 about Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to overhaul Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin) The full Iowa Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider an amended version of the governor’s bill on February 14.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this text to all 150 Iowa legislators on February 3. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to AEAs are available here and here.

Dear Iowa State Senators and State Representatives:

My name is David Tilly. I am the parent of a child with a disability, a school psychologist and for the last 8+ years of my career I worked as the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education. I’d like to use my time today to begin discussion of how we might use the energy that has been generated by the AEA bills toward a positive result.

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Discriminating against transgender people does not make anyone safer

Laura Hessburg is Director of Public Policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This commentary is slightly adapted from comments she delivered at the public hearing on House File 2389 on February 12.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) urges legislators to reject House File 2389, a bill permitting and enabling discrimination against trans individuals. We believe this bill is harmful, unnecessary, and appalling for a variety of reasons. Our remarks address the harmful impact it will have on ensuring crime victims have equal access to support services and emergency shelter.

ICADV supports 22 local victim service provider agencies across Iowa, including eight domestic violence shelters, providing support services to victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, homicide). The largest source of funding for this work comes from federal grants. As a condition of receiving federal funding, agencies are required to ensure equal access to accommodations and services as per non-discrimination provisions in federal law under the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Housing Act, and HUD equal access regulations. This bill puts agencies in direct conflict with federal grant obligations and state law—and for many victims, this confusion creates another barrier to accessing support services.

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Refreshments of the season

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal on September 20, 2023. Above: Detail from Clark’s law-school graduation photo, 1884.

In my previous column I quoted the long report about lawyers and judges inducting Alexander Clark into their fraternity, but I did not tell nearly everything readers might want to know.

Muscatine Journal, June 24, 1884: “The members of the Muscatine Bar met at Delmonico’s as per invitation of their newly elected brother, Alexander Clark, Esq. at eight o’clock last evening.”

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Proposed library bill is another attack on ideas

Photo by Bruce Lear of the public library in Alden, Iowa.

UPDATE: None of the bills that threatened to undermine the independence of public libraries made it past the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” deadline on February 16. Original post follows.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

Most Iowa towns have a few things in common: a gas station, a bar, a sprinkling of different church flavors, and a public library.  

Now, almost all of Iowa’s 500 public libraries are governed by a board of trustees. The library trustees make policy and oversee the collection. They are volunteer boards that function independently but are appointed by city councils.

That all could change if House Study Bill 678 becomes law. 

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Pay attention to how officials talk—and how they act

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird receives an award from the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association in December 2023. Photo first published on the Attorney General’s official Facebook page.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Voters have busy lives—families to care for, jobs demanding their attention, bills to worry about. 

So, they can be forgiven if they do not closely track their government leaders’ statements and actions. Sometimes voters may find discrepancies between what politicians say and what they do.

Here is one example:

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird was in the news last week asking Congress to replenish a federal program, the Victims of Crime Act, which assists crime victims in a variety of ways.

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A critical look at the Guidehouse report on Iowa's AEAs

Ted Stilwill served as director of the Iowa Department of Education under Governors Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack. He has also worked with a national nonprofit on program evaluation and school improvement work with several state departments of education and large school districts.

Last fall, Iowa’s Department of Administrative Services entered into a contract with Guidehouse, a business consulting firm, to produce a report on special education in Iowa. The study was designed to bolster Governor Kim Reynolds’ effort to decimate the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The report (enclosed in full below) does not name its authors. How much it cost the state is not known. The Reynolds administration has not shared its directions to Guidehouse. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. Nothing in the report indicates that a single Iowan was engaged in its preparation.

Most importantly, I believe the Guidehouse conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Of the three general negative charges against AEAs, none hold up to scrutiny, even when using data from the report.

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Banning Satanic displays, worship would violate Iowa's constitution

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Last week, Republican State Senator Sandy Salmon introduced Senate File 2210, “An act related to the Satanic displays or Satanic worship on property of the state and its political subdivisions.”

The bill is designed from top to bottom to ban satanism from being practiced, observed, or even acknowledged in public, including in Iowa schools, libraries, and public rights-of-way. A more clear and precise violation of the Iowa Constitution’s Article 1, Section 3 regarding religion couldn’t have been drafted better for future legal textbooks.

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"It's embarrassing"—Democrats slam do-nothing Iowa House environment panel

From left: Democratic State Representatives Austin Baeth, Molly Buck, Josh Turek, Elinor Levin, Sharon Steckman, and Adam Zabner. Screenshot from video posted to Facebook on February 8.

“When I joined Environmental Protection, I never envisioned that I would be talking about a raccoon bounty, but here we are,” Democratic State Representative Josh Turek said on February 7, while the House Environmental Protection Committee considered the only bill on the agenda that day.

As they weighed in on the bill, Democrats voiced broader frustrations about the committee’s failure to engage with any of Iowa’s serious environmental challenges.

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Iowa's most shameful ranking yet

Kali White VanBaale is an Iowa-based novelist, creative writing professor, and mental health care advocate. Find more of her work at kwhitevanbaale.substack.com (where this essay first appeared) and www.kaliwhite.com.     

In late January, the Treatment and Advocacy Center released an annual report, “Prevention Over Punishment: Finding the Right Balance of Civil and Forensic State Psychiatric Hospital Beds.” It says in part:

The number of state psychiatric hospital beds for adults with severe mental illness has continued to decline to a historic low of 36,150, or 10.8 per 100,000 population in 2023, with a majority of state hospital beds occupied by people who have been committed to the hospital through the criminal legal system. This strategy of prioritizing admission of forensic patients effectively creates a system where someone must be arrested to access a state hospital bed in many states.

Other key findings:

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Take away Grandpa's car keys

Photo by fatir29, available via Shutterstock

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.

Forget that the special counsel’s report confirmed that his investigation found President Joe Biden committed no crimes.

Forget that the investigation was conducted by a Republican—a Trump administration U.S. attorney—and that all Republicans are pledged to march behind Trump like the rats of Hamlin behind the Pied Piper.

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Can you hear us, Governor Reynolds?

Jenny Turner speaks during an Iowa House subcommittee on the governor’s AEA bill on January 31. Photo by Laura Belin

Jenny Turner is a public school mom and a school speech therapist. She lives in West Des Moines.

Governor Kim Reynolds is not happy that Iowans have opinions about her attempt to gut Iowa Area Education Agencies. She even held a press conference—a rare occurrence—about her AEA plan on January 31, a few hours before Iowa House and Senate subcommittees were scheduled to consider her bill.

The governor has been desperately blitzing social media with graphics to try to persuade people.

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Zach Nunn visits Ukraine on Congressional delegation

U.S. Representative Zach Nunn met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, members of the Ukrainian parliament, and intelligence officials in Kyiv on February 9 as a member of a bipartisan U.S. House delegation.

At this writing, Nunn has not posted about the trip on his social media feeds or announced it in a news release, but he appears in pictures others shared from the visit, and is second from the left in the photo above.

Four of the five members of Congress on this delegation serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. A committee news release mentioned that Nunn “sits on the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions and currently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.”

Representative Mike Turner, who chairs the Intelligence committee, said at a news conference in Kyiv, “We came today so that we could voice to President Zelenskyy and others that we were seeing that the United States stands in full support of Ukraine.”

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Exclusive: ISU acquired $5 million plane for athletics

Photo of the Cessna 560XL recently purchased for ISU’s Athletics Department, cropped from an online listing of the plane for sale

Iowa State University recently acquired a Cessna 560XL airplane for $5.06 million, university staff confirmed to Bleeding Heartland on February 7. The 2004 model Cessna arrived in Ames last month and is intended to replace the university’s King Air 350.

ISU communications staffer Angie Hunt said via email, “the Cessna plane was purchased for the athletic department’s primary use,” with the ISU Foundation using the athletic’s department’s “cash reserves” for the transaction. She added, “No general funds or tuition dollars were used.”

Staff in the Athletics Department have already used the Cessna for several trips.

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Iowa House bill would allow vigilante justice in schools

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

On January 4, a 17-year-old Perry High School student killed one 6th grader and injured five others (one of whom later died) before taking his own life. In response to school shootings, Siouxland Christian School in Sioux City has decided to train and arm school staff members.

However, no evidence indicates that having more guns reduces violence. In fact, it stands to reason that more guns will create more potential for school shootings, even if only accidentally.

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Governor's revised plan for Iowa AEAs is still very bad

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

In 7th grade, I tried to build a shadowbox. I had plans, but I lacked skill. After struggling for weeks, the deadline loomed, and my shadow box was a shadow of what it was supposed to be.

I turned it in. My shop teacher frowned, sized it up and said, “Work on it a little more.” I did.

After a week of measuring, sawing in the wrong places, and hammering my fingers more than once, I tuned it in again.

This time the frown was a silent grimace. In true shop teacher bluntness, he said, “It’s still really bad.” Then remembering he was supposed to encourage, he said, “You’ll get it next time.” 

I didn’t.

My 7th grade shadowbox is like the rewrite of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “AEA Destruction Act,” Senate Study Bill 3073. The governor’s proposed amendment is still really bad.

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Governor's bill would harm not only AEAs, but public schools broadly

Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.

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Gevo plant in South Dakota will use 300 million gallons of water annually

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A Gevo official confirmed on February 2 that the company expects to use 300 million gallons of water per year, or 700 gallons per minute, at its planned Lake Preston, South Dakota Net-Zero 1 (NZ1) plant and an adjacent green hydrogen facility known as the Dakota Renewable Hydrogen (DRH) Project.

When asked if the water use estimate provided was for the NZ1 plant, the DRH plant, or both, Heather Manuel, vice president of corporate communications for Gevo, replied, “Both – we have an agreement with Kingbrook Rural Water for our water supply and do not require a permit.”

On February 6, 2023, Summit Carbon Solutions announced its partnership with Colorado-based Gevo, although that arrangement is not yet reflected on the South Dakota pipeline route. Sabrina Zenor, director of stakeholder engagement and corporate communications for Summit, stated on January 25 that Gevo would be added to the proposed CO2 pipeline route when the company resubmits its application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The commission denied Summit’s initial application last September.

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Alexander Clark’s initiation to the bar

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal on September 6, 2023. Above: Brannan, Carskaddan, Clark, Richman.

In 1879, Alexander Clark Jr. was Iowa’s first Black law-school graduate. In 1884, his father became the second.

The Vidette-Reporter, State University of Iowa, February 2, 1884: “We had the pleasure of perusing a very able article on the Civil Rights question, written by Mr. Alexander Clark, a member of this class, and published by the Muscatine Journal. The article sustains the dissenting opinion of Justice Harlan.”

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Metrics don't matter: How Kim Reynolds fudged Future Ready Iowa goals

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats.

In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds made “Future Ready Iowa” her trademark program designed to improve Iowa’s workforce, setting a goal to increase the number of Iowans who had attained a post-secondary education to 70 percent of the workforce by 2025.

Reynolds announced in last month’s Condition of the State address, “I’m happy to say that we’ve reached our ambitious goal, and we did it ahead of schedule.” Future Ready Iowa’s website likewise asserts, “we are now proud to report that we have met that goal as a state.”

Two years ahead of schedule sounds like a huge public policy accomplishment, right? Not so fast. On closer examination, Reynolds and her team fudged the numbers.

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