A major education debate is expected to take place during next session. I’m preparing by hosting town hall meetings and talking with students, parents and teachers. I’ve heard lots of ideas on how to keep Iowa schools and students competitive.
I want to thank all who’ve talked with me about how to raise standards, improve teaching, and encourage innovation in our schools. I will take what I heard with me to Des Moines for the 2012 session. One suggestion made in West Liberty was to put kids in school before the age of four and work on their communication and reading skills earlier to better help the Spanish speaking children in that community.
This sort of constituent input is the same approach that paid off when we made high-quality preschool available to every Iowa four-year-old. After involving working parents, teachers and employers, as well as public and private preschool providers and funders, we created a popular, statewide system that is now a nationally recognized model.
Strong local schools are key to our state’s economic future. If you have ideas to share for improving student achievement, I’d like to hear them. You can email me at Tom.Courtney@legis.state.ia.us or call me at home, 319-759-5334.
To review the Governor’s education reform ideas, go to www.governor.iowa.gov/files/Education%20Blueprint.pdf.
Iowa: “It’s a wonderful life”
As Iowans, we enjoy a wonderful quality of life. Great schools, safe communities, affordable housing and lots of recreational opportunities make our state a great place to live, work and raise a family.
That’s why Iowa is regularly named one of the best places to live in America. For example, this year Congressional Quarterly Press ranked Iowa “the nation’s second-most livable state.” Iowa is near the top for overall health, safe neighborhoods, high school graduation rates, and abundant recreation and natural areas. The Annie E. Casey Foundation named Iowa “one of the top states to raise a child,” and Forbes says Iowa is among “the best places to start a business or career.”
Our great quality of life was built a step at a time, thanks to the commitment of individual Iowans, businesses and communities. This year in the Legislature, we approved efforts to:
>> Enhance what makes Iowa special: We continued the “Great Places” initiative and approved $1 million to help Iowa communities, regions and neighborhoods cultivate the qualities that make them unique, attractive places to live and visit. “Iowa Great Places,” launched in 2005, makes state government a partner with Iowans and helps them leverage resources to develop the potential of their local communities. Learn more at www.iowagreatplaces.gov.
>> Help Iowans stay in their homes: To help struggling homeowners, we required banks and other foreclosure entities to keep letting homeowners know they can receive mortgage mediation assistance from the Iowa Attorney General’s office. Iowa’s Mortgage Foreclosure Hotline has helped thousands of Iowans stay in their homes. Learn more here.
>> Preserve Iowa’s heritage through the State Fair: The State Fair is the largest event in Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. It’s a celebration of Iowa’s heritage, showcasing our best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement. To keep the Iowa State Fair among the nation’s best, this year we created a trust fund to maintain and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The fund is made up of gifts and is not part of the state treasury.
>> Provide better library services: Iowa’s outstanding local libraries are part of our state’s overall commitment to education and strong communities. To keep our libraries strong, we merged the State Library and Iowa’s six Library Service Areas into one agency. The new agency—Iowa Library Services—will work with Iowa libraries of all types and sizes to make them the best they can be, streamline services and save money.
Help make state government better
As we head toward the 2012 session, the Legislature is looking for your suggestions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state government. To share your ideas, go here. To read the suggestions of other Iowans go here:
Stronger laws reduce meth in Iowa
The number of meth labs in Iowa has decreased dramatically, thanks to controls on the sale of pseudoephedrine. Meth is a highly addictive, dangerous drug that can be made using pseudoephedrine and other items found in most homes.
In 2005, the Legislature passed the Pseudoephedrine Control Act, which regulates the sale of pseudoephedrine—a common ingredient in cold medicines that is used in making methamphetamine—and limited the amount that could be purchased. After an initial decline, the number of meth labs started to increase when meth makers began “pharmacy hopping,” purchasing large quantities of pseudoephedrine from multiple pharmacies.
In response, the Legislature put in place real-time, electronic tracking that connects all pharmacies and identifies those attempting to illegally purchase large amounts of pseudoephedrine. This has helped law enforcement with their meth investigations and allows pharmacists to stop a sale since they have real-time records of pseudoephedrine purchases.
The system was implemented in 2010 and the number of meth labs is falling again. According to the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, use of the electronic system has prevented more than 21,000 illegal purchases, enough sales to produce 113 pounds of meth.
To see the report and Iowa’s drug control strategy, go here:
Down payment assistance for home buyers
One of the biggest barriers facing Iowa home buyers is coming up with a cash down payment, but help is available from the Iowa Finance Authority. Our state’s housing finance agency was created in 1975 to help low- and moderate-income Iowans find affordable housing.
Through the end of this year, home buyers can apply for up to $3,500 in down payment assistance when purchasing their home through the Iowa Finance Authority’s FirstHome and FirstHome Plus program. That’s an increase of $1,000 above the normal amount of $2,500.
The FirstHome Plus program provides grants for down payments and closing costs. The grant must be used in conjunction with the FirstHome program, an affordable mortgage financing program with a fixed interest rate for up to 30 years for Iowa home buyers.
Home buyers can apply for the FirstHome and FirstHome Plus programs by contacting one of more than 400 participating lender locations throughout the state. For a list of participating lenders and to determine your eligibility, go here:
Prepare for winter driving
With winter weather already hitting many parts of Iowa, it’s time to prepare ourselves and our vehicles for winter driving.
To minimize the possibility of a breakdown, winterize your vehicle and get it tuned up. Check your wipers, hoses, battery, alternator, belts, tires, brakes, exhaust system, lights and fluid levels. Make sure your heater and defroster are working.
Then put together an emergency survival kit. In addition to carrying a mobile phone, you’ll also want to pack booster cables, blankets or sleeping bags, candles and matches, and snow shovel and ice scraper.
Call 511 for current road conditions. When planning a trip, go to http://www.511ia.org, where you’ll get real-time updates, streaming video from traffic cameras and a dynamic map.
What’s in your trash?
A statewide study of nine landfills reveals that the top three components of Iowa trash are organic waste, paper and plastics.
The study shows that Iowa is doing a good job overall of recycling such items as plastic containers, glass, newsprint and office paper. But many items that could be recycled—including organic waste, cardboard, and construction and demolition debris—are still finding their way to Iowa’s landfills.
While recycling is the right thing to do, anything that diverts more stuff from our landfills saves us all money. Landfills are expensive to build and to maintain.
The study will help improve solid waste and recycling programs in Iowa. To review the complete 2011 Iowa Statewide Waste Characterization Study, go here: