(Editor’s Note: Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa Senate District 43 in the Legislature. The following editorial appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen, and is reprinted with permission of the author).
When considering the accomplishments of the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature, it makes sense to be clear about where we started.
In Iowa, Republicans control the governor’s office and the Iowa House. Democrats control the Iowa Senate. That means bipartisan support is required for any idea to pass the legislature.
- Republican opposition, for example, prevented the following common sense ideas from reaching the governor’s desk:
An increase in the minimum wage.
- A crack down on dishonest employers who refuse to pay employees what they are owed.
- An anti-bullying law to give all students a safe and supportive place to learn.
- The elimination of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse so no Iowa abuser can ever be sure they got away with it.
- Tougher laws against domestic violence and human trafficking.
I again led efforts to bring Iowans responsible, regulated access to medicines made from cannabis. The legislation we wrote is based on the most successful approaches adopted by other states, including Minnesota and Illinois. It was approved with bipartisan support in the Senate, but was blocked from a vote in the House by Republican leaders.
It takes time for even good ideas to become law. The minimum wage hike, the wage theft crackdown, the anti-bullying effort, the tougher laws on domestic abuse and human trafficking, and medical cannabis will all be ready for the House to consider next January.
While I was disappointed those ideas did not become law, I’ve very happy to report that steep, permanent cuts in state support for the University of Iowa were decisively rejected.
I want to thank the many Johnson County residents who spoke up against a misguided proposal from the Iowa Board of Regents.
I’m proud that Democratic state senators and my Johnson County House colleagues, led by Senate Budget Chairman Bob Dvorsky of Coralville, made it clear that so-called “performance based funding” goes nowhere as long as Democrats hold the majority of the Iowa Senate.
Local school funding was the most contentious issue of this session. We need to face the fact that Iowa no longer leads the nation in student achievement.
Other states are investing more and seeing better results. When it comes to per student funding in our K-12 schools, Iowa—the education state—has slipped into the bottom third of the 50 states.
Education is the next generation’s ticket to a better life and is key to building a high-wage, high-skill Iowa economy. That’s why I worked hard this session to get our state’s support for education back on track. Unfortunately, despite hard work from Iowa educators, students and parents, the best that can be said is that a status quo education budget was approved.
It might be enough to prevent Iowa from falling further behind, but it won’t help our young people catch up to students in other states.
The Republican argument that Iowa can’t afford first class schools is ridiculous. Our state’s economy is growing and we have almost $1 billion in savings. And the same House Republicans who voted against education turned around and introduced legislation calling for massive tax giveaways to wealthy Iowans and out-of-state corporations.
What Iowans need to know about this session is that support for public education is now a partisan issue at the Iowa Statehouse. That’s unfortunate, but it is true.
Legislative Democrats support strong local schools and affordable access to community colleges, public universities and private colleges.
Legislative Republicans don’t.
In fact, the Republican majority of the Iowa House was so opposed to responsibly funding Iowa’s local schools that they ignored legal deadlines and caused fiscal uncertainty in hundreds of school districts.
More than 1,100 Iowa teachers were pink-slipped this spring because of Republican intransigence in the Capitol. Republican members of the legislature stubbornly refused to bargain, even to the point of threatening to shut down state government.
Most Iowans, be they Democrats or Republicans, do not share this strange hostility toward public education. That’s why Iowa candidates for office always promise to support local schools.
The 2015 session is when the gap between campaign promises and votes cast in the legislature became a Grand Canyon.
In the coming months, I’ll be working to tell as many Iowans as possible the story of the failure of legislative Republicans to support our local students.
My goal is to help the majority of Iowans who support our schools gain the attention of the Republican members of the Legislature.
If they do, the next session of the Iowa Legislature will be the one that reverses Iowa’s slide with regard to educational leadership.
Contact Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Governor Branstad used his authority to line item veto the bipartisan, bicameral agreement on school funding. Bolkcom, who uses Twitter sparingly, posted twice in reaction to the governor’s veto).
Big spending Branstad hands over hundreds of millions to profitable out of state corps but stiffs our kids education. What’s wrong with him?
— Joe Bolkcom (@JoeBolkcom) July 3, 2015
Gov: Keep short changing our investments in education & we will need a new state motto. Fields of Dummies! or A Land Between 2 Prisons! — Joe Bolkcom (@JoeBolkcom) July 3, 2015