The following is a news update from Iowa Democrats:
Majority Party lawmakers fast tracked a wide range of attacks on public schools this year that included shifting money from public schools to charter schools and eliminating opportunities for students.
Schools hoping for greater school funding assistance this year had their hopes dashed as another year of inadequate school funding for our PreK-12 public schools passed. With the low increase in funding, it will result in higher class sizes and fewer class offerings.
Earlier this month the Governor signed two controversial bills impacting Iowa families and students.
Bill Banning Diversity Training Signed into Law
A bill that bans certain types of diversity training was signed by the Governor this week. The bill prohibits certain topics related to gender and race from being discussed as part of government or school employee training. For example, the new law will prevent these trainings from including or even acknowledging that systemic racism or sexism exists in the United States.
The new law will still allow trainers to respond to questions regarding these issues if the issue is raised by a participant in the training. The bill, HF 802, passed the House and the Senate on a party line vote during the 2021 legislative session.
Governor Signs Accreditation Rewrite and Curriculum Objections
As part of the Education budget bill, the Governor signed a provision that rewrites the accreditation process for K-12 schools despite opposition from both public and private school groups. The bill overhauls what is known as site visits and what can trigger a site visit. The Director of the Department of Education can now withhold payments, including federal funds, and refer an investigation to the Attorney General.
However, probably the most controversial piece in the bill is allowing a petition to object to school curriculum with just 10% of the voters. Any curriculum can be petitioned despite its requirement.
The provision did not go through committee and was added in an amendment at the last minute to the bill in the last few days of session. The new provisions will be in effect for the next school year.
Summer Food Programs Available
School’s out for the summer and now is the time to help connect eligible children to free meals all summer long. Thousands of meals for children in low-income areas at no charge to their families are provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. These meals are intended to replace school meal programs that are unavailable during the summer. The federally funded program is administered by the Iowa Department of Education and local sponsors.
The program will operate about 500 meal sites across Iowa from June through August. Each site is administered by a local sponsor, including schools, churches, local cities, and other private non-profit community organizations. The sites are open to all children ages 18 and under at no charge. No identification or sign-in is required. Many sites will also offer learning and recreational activities for children.
To find a summer meal site near you, visit fns.usda.gov/meals4kids or text “FOOD” to 877877.
Become a Summer Food Service Program Partner by signing up to volunteer. Contact the Food Bank of Iowa at 515-564-0330 to get involved.
Bill Helping Sexual Assault Survivors Signed into Law
Two bills were signed last month that were proposed by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to assist sexual assault survivors.
HF 603 creates a sexual assault forensic examiner program, which provides training and resources to Iowa health care professionals. SF 451 formally establishes a tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits and ensures the program’s future funding.
Last October, the Crime Victim Assistance Division finalized the “track-kit” statewide reporting system so survivors may track the status of their evidence kits. SF 451 sets forth kit storage and disposal requirements, including victim notification prior to disposing of the kit. This bill also codifies the responsibilities for an estimated 1,500 reporting system users at medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, crime laboratories, and county attorney’s offices.
The Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program (HF 603) is intended to increase the number of nurses trained in examining sexual assault survivors, particularly in the state’s underserved areas. Training will increase consistency in how exams are conducted and how information is given to survivors at the time of the exam. The new unit would be staffed with two full-time experts who can develop adequate training, provide resources, and assist examiners.
Nationally, there is a shortage of sexual assault examiners as the exams require specialized training and protocols relating to victims who are children.
Iowa has many trained sexual assault nurse examiners, but the state lacks agency leading training efforts, maintaining a trained examiners list, or documenting locations with trained examiners. Both bills will help move the state forward and help Iowans who have been impacted by sexual assault.
Emphasis on Made in America
Last week, the Biden Administration put out a memo to streamline the implementation of the federal government’s new “Made in America” priorities. The new changes will make it easier and more transparent for government agencies to buy American products and minimize the number of times outsourcing is needed. Making the purchase of “Made in America” a priority will turn around the economy and create better paying jobs right here in Iowa.
Iowa House Democrats have long supported measures to put an emphasis not only on American made products but also products made right here in the state. Keeping manufacturing and good paying jobs in the state is vital to a strong middle class.
More Iowa News
NEW BUTCHERY INNOVATION AND REVITALIZATION FUND SIGNED INTO LAW: Iowans increasingly want to know where their food comes from and want to buy from local farmers. Food insecurity during the pandemic only heightened the need to buy food produced locally. A new law expands the opportunity to buy locally raised and processed meat. Last week the Governor signed HF 857, which establishes a Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund. The fund can be used to help small scale licensed meat processing businesses expand or renovate and also be used to establish new licensed custom meat lockers. Through the budgeting process, the Legislature appropriated $750,000 for the fund to help businesses expand. In the coming months the application process will be created so small businesses can access the funds.
NEW LIFETIME TROUT FISHING LICENSE: Iowans over 65 can now purchase a lifetime trout fishing license. Previously, people who wanted to fish for trout had to purchase a trout license, more commonly known as the trout stamp. Signed into law, the bill guarantees those over the age of 65 who purchase a lifetime trout license will no longer need to purchase the yearly trout stamp. Iowa already has a lifetime fishing license for those over the age of 65 and the cost in 2021 is $61.50. For more information on fishing and to buy a fishing license visit, iowadnr.gov/Fishing. The DNR is also offering a new collectible hard card for purchase in two different designs—a largemouth bass or a pheasant—created by native Iowa artist Bruce Gordon. The durable hard card costs $5 and will include purchased licenses printed on the back for the year. The cards are available to purchase online or in person and will be mailed out after purchase. New designs on the hard card will be unveiled each year. Get your hard card at: iowadnr.gov/About-DNR/Go-Outdoors-Iowa.
PRESIDENT PROPOSES HIGHER ED ASSISTANCE: Besides proposing two-years free tuition at a community college, the Biden Administration has now proposed, for the FY 2022 budget, an increase in the maximum Pell Grant by $1,875 to a level of $8,370. This comes at a time when a report by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators says that as of September 2019, 43 million borrowers carried $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. President Biden has also proposed an amendment to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that would allow the use of Pell Grants for some programs shorter than 15 weeks. This will increase assistance to those seeking certifications to address Iowa’s skilled workforce shortage. As of June 15th, 49.1% of Iowa’s high school seniors have filed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). That is down 3.7% from last year at this time, and 2% below the national average.
VOLUNTEER HALL OF FAME NOMINATIONS: Nominations are being accepted for the 2021 Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame Awards for any Iowan who has made a long-lasting difference through volunteer service. Honorees will be recognized in a ceremony at the Capitol this fall. The nomination deadline is June 30th. Details and nomination materials can be found at: volunteeriowa.org/hof.