Local Schools, Middle Class, Health Care: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

Ed. note: this is an excerpt from the newsletter from state Senator Tom Courtney. To read the full newsletter, please go to http://www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/courtney/newsletter/

This week, Iowa Senate Democrats announced a plan to increase state aid to schools to ensure that every Iowa child gets the best education possible and that they are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.

Our plan calls for a 4 percent increase in basic state aid for Iowa schools for each of the next two school years. Our plan would reverse Iowa’s slide downwards in per-student investment. We are now 35th and falling. Other states are investing more and achieving better results than Iowa.

The House’s party-line vote for a 1.25 percent increase in school funding will continue Iowa’s slide even further downwards in per-student investment and student achievement.

Parents, students, educators and other concerned Iowans tell us that the funding approved by the Republican-controlled House is not enough to keep up with the cost of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms. School superintendents across the state say that their schools are facing larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, outdated materials and staff layoffs.

The House-passed version would also raise property taxes on many Iowans, while shortchanging our best and brightest students. We must do better.

Iowa has a shortage of skilled workers. Employers say it’s the No. 1 obstacle to growing our economy.

A new report from the Iowa Student Aid Commission highlights the need for training and education after high school. The Condition of Higher Education in Iowa 2014 reports that 36 percent of working-age Iowans hold an associate’s degree or higher, but 62 percent of all the jobs in the state by 2018 will require postsecondary education. In fact, seven out of the ten fastest growing occupations in Iowa require some education or training beyond high school.

Skilled workers are in demand because they are more productive, more adaptable and more able to meet the changing demands of the modern economy. The good news is that our community colleges are stepping in to provide the education and training Iowa workers can use to fill job openings. Iowa’s community colleges offer programs that meet state and regional economic needs.

Many Iowans have taken advantage of worker training programs at our community colleges. Iowa’s workforce today represents nearly 25 million credit hours and more than 138 million contact hours related to past and present community college training.

Those who make the commitment to improve their skills see a payoff. Community college students completing their degree have a 24 percent rate of return on their education investment in the first 10 years after completion. They make on average 18.4 percent more 10 years after completing their program than high school graduates.

Spending by Iowa community colleges and their students contributes to the creation of 18,000 jobs across the state and $684 million annually in income. Nearly 84 percent of Iowa’s community college students remain in Iowa after graduation, building a stronger workforce and growing our economy.

Becoming the healthiest state in the country isn’t just about eating nutritious foods and making time for exercise. Iowans also deserve access to affordable health insurance and good healthcare providers – doctors, nurses and others – in our local communities.

Unfortunately, Iowa lags behind much of the nation in healthcare workforce recruitment. In particular, compared to the rest of the nation, Iowa struggles to attract mental health professionals. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Iowa is ranked 44th in the nation for mental health workforce availability. Of particular note, Iowa ranks 46th for the number of psychiatrists per capita and 47th for the number of psychologists per capita.

The Senate Human Resources Committee recently heard a presentation from the Iowa Department of Public Health to better understand existing healthcare workforce training and recruitment programs. NAMI and the IowaCare Givers also presented ideas on ways to improve current programs. Recommendations ranged from making programs at the Department of Public Health more efficient and effective to establishing more residency programs for doctors after they complete their medical training.

Iowa recently redesigned its local mental health and disability services system, and now we must take the necessary steps to train and attract high-quality health care providers who can offer services to Iowans in every corner of the state.

The Governor’s proposal to close the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant makes the need even more urgent.

The Iowa Alliance for Arts Education sponsored its second annual Fine Arts Advocacy Day at the Iowa Statehouse, giving fine arts advocates the chance to talk with legislators about the importance of arts instruction in our schools.

Among the advocates was opera great and Iowa native Simon Estes, who has performed at the world’s major opera houses for presidents, popes and other world leaders. He told the Senate Education Committee that the arts are a core educational experience for all students.

The Committee also heard from Sarah Dougherty, the 2013 Outstanding Elementary Art Educator. She is currently the coordinator of the Turnaround Arts Program at Findley Elementary in Des Moines. The Turnaround Arts Program is a new initiative to help narrow the achievement gap and improve student engagement through the arts.

Findley was chosen to be one of eight schools featured in the program through a highly competitive national selection process, and will receive intensive arts education resources, expertise and the involvement of high-profile artists. Thanks to the Turnaround Arts Program, Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker has been working with Findley for the past year.

Grant Ganzer of Johnston, a finalist on The Voice, told legislators that music in his school was important to his success in the TV music contest. Grant auditioned and was chosen by Blake Shelton to be a contestant on the show. For Grant, the experience has set the stage for what he hopes to accomplish here in Iowa: to inspire other young musicians to follow their dreams.

Research shows that:

• Arts-engaged students are much more likely to have excellent attendance records and to be recognized for academic achievement.

• At-risk students site arts engagement as a reason for staying in school.

• High-poverty arts-engaged eighth graders score higher on reading and science assessments.

• Students in the arts outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT by 91 points.

• Arts-engaged students are more likely to participate in civic engagement and community building.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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