Wage Theft And Money For Schools: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

Once again we will take excerpts from Senator Courtney’s newsletter.

Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools. That’s why I’m working hard to ensure that every Iowa child gets the best education possible and that they are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.

The Republican-led Iowa House passed a bill along party lines this week that would provide a 1.25 percent increase in state funding for our schools.

I have heard from parents and students. I have talked with my local school teachers and administrators. They all tell me that the bill that the House passed is not enough money to keep up with the costs of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms. In fact, school superintendents across the state say that their schools are facing larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, outdated materials and staff layoffs.

Although Iowa schools are doing a good job of improving student achievement, we are in danger of being passed up by other states if we don’t provide the resources they need to prepare for the 21st century workforce.

Iowa currently ranks 35th in the nation when it comes to how much we invest in each student. On average, we invest $1,612 less per student than the national average. I want to do better by our local schools and for all of Iowa’s students.

What does your school need to be successful? I have visited local schools and listened to students, teachers and parents. If you would like me to visit your school, please call or e-mail me. I invite all constituents to share their thoughts on funding for our local schools.

All Iowans deserve to get paid for the work they do. Strengthening Iowa’s middle class depends on it. Sadly, $600 million in wages are stolen from Iowa workers each year.

Iowa’s wage theft laws are so weak that they are impossible to enforce. The result? Iowa workers get ripped off by unscrupulous employers, and the majority of businesses that play by the rules are put at a disadvantage.

Most Iowans aren’t at risk of being cheated by their employer, but low-wage workers often are, and they’re the ones with the most to lose. This week at the Statehouse, Katie Wilson and Justin Banks, servers at the Coralville Applebee’s, talked of their fight to get their share of tips illegally taken from them by management.

Valentine Ruiz of Conesville described his ongoing fight to get paid for $1,200 of welding work he did in 2012 for a company in West Liberty. Because three other people had similar complaints, Iowa Workforce Development sought and won a judgment for back pay and interest. However, no penalty was imposed, and Mr. Ruiz has yet to receive any of the money owed him.

Just hiring more investigators won’t fix this problem. We need laws that make it clear you must pay your workers, and make it easier and safer for workers to stand up for their rights. Proposed legislation would make Iowa’s law more straightforward with these three changes:

1. Employers would be required to keep a written record of the terms of employment.

2. The defense that an employer “unintentionally” failed to pay employees would no longer be acceptable.

3. Employees filing wage theft claims and those who offer testimony on their behalf would be protected from retaliation under threat of penalty.

The Iowa Senate approved reforms to our state’s wage theft law in 2011 and 2014, but the bills were not brought up for debate in the Iowa House.

For more information on the problem of wage theft in Iowa, read the Iowa Policy Project’s report at www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120829-wagetheft-xs.pdf.

Promoting the long-term health and wellbeing of Iowa’s children is essential to our state’s future. Kids lead more productive, happy lives if they receive mental health and developmental services when they need them , according to the United Way.

Children’s brains develop over time. The growth and maturation of the brain is guided by genes and impacted by life experiences. When kids experience trauma, that stress disrupts the developing brain, producing negative lifelong consequences for learning, behavior and health.

Legislators heard this week about the problem of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and progress over the last year to expand early childhood wellness initiatives to more counties in Iowa. The state is now collecting data on Adverse Childhood Experiences, including child abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.

Research shows that kids who experience four or more traumatic experiences in childhood have a:

• 1,525 percent greater chance of attempted suicide.

• 555 percent greater chance of alcoholism.

• 443 percent greater chance of illicit drug use.

• 357 percent greater chance of depression.

• 242 percent greater chance of smoking.

• 222 percent greater chance of obesity.

No kids should have to grow up with those kinds of odds working against them. Building resilience is the key to moderating extreme stress and promoting lifelong health. Of greatest importance are prevention and early detection, as well as family-focused approaches to supporting children and their parents.

Effective evidence-based prevention and treatment programs include Iowa’s 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative, which brings together physicians and social service providers to promote healthy mental development among young kids. If a child is determined to be at risk, appropriate referrals can be made to help the family in optimizing the child’s mental development.

With continued support of the 1st Five Initiative, we can ensure that Iowa’s children begin life with the greatest opportunity to achieve school readiness, academic success and overall wellbeing throughout life.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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