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Iowans Go Back to School

August 22, 2017



Iowa continues to lead the nation with a high school graduation rate that has increased five years in a row. More than 91 percent of students in Iowa’s Class of 2016 graduated within four years.

This is good news that we can build upon by ensuring all Iowa high school graduates have the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and job training. After all, our students are our future workers, innovators, business owners and community leaders.

We must always be looking to improve Iowa education in ways that benefit our students and strengthen our economy. Businesses consistently report that Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers holds us back. 

We can lay the groundwork by investing first and foremost in our students, teachers and schools. This includes:

  • Making sure kids can get into preschool if their families want them to participate.

  • Ensuring all students get the same amount for their studies—regardless of where they go to school—by paying for school transportation costs separately from education.

  • Helping students learn to read in a timely way so that they continue to succeed in school and in life. 

  • Improving civic education so that more young people are encouraged to become active, responsible citizens.

  • Preparing students to fill jobs in the most in-demand fields, including health care and manufacturing, by expanding access to STEM education.

We can continue to lead when it comes to keeping our kids in school and graduating on time. But let’s also ensure they’re getting the best-possible preparation to take on the challenges and opportunities that await them. 

For more on the graduation rates in our local schools, visit the Iowa Department of Education website. 

College students are returning to campus. Unfortunately, the state’s budget mess will hit many of them in the pocketbook.

Massive cuts have slashed more than $36 million from what was originally approved for community colleges and state universities this fall. Education is being sacrificed at the expense of tax breaks for special interests and out-of-state corporations.

As a result, college students will pay more. In June, Iowa’s Board of Regents decided to increase tuition at our three state universities by 5 percent for the 2017-18 school year — more than double what was expected.

A Tuition Task Force was subsequently scheduled to meet July 27 to discuss the future of state university tuition in Iowa, but was canceled when Republican legislators and members of the Reynolds Administration declined to participate. Not showing up for this important meeting is unacceptable when budget cuts have forced steep, last-minute tuition increases.

Our community colleges do a great job helping Iowans prepare to fill local job openings. However, cuts are forcing them to raise tuition as well. Over the past decade, what students must pay to attend an Iowa community college has increased by close to 5 percent annually. A full-time student now pays between $4,410 and $6,016 a year. All this comes at a time when financial aid is on the decline.

Iowa’s private college students are also taking a hit. The Iowa Tuition Grant, which provides need-based financial aid, has been cut by $3.8 million from what was originally approved for this fall.

Such cuts threaten the quality of education students receive, according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities. The cuts may also drive up student debt.

Iowa’s average student debt is just under $30,000 per student. We must do everything we can to ensure that Iowa students are not priced out of an education or burdened with crushing debt that prevents them from ever getting ahead.

Please speak up with Governor Reynolds and state legislators on the need for better support for our students, our colleges and our universities.

Work-based learning expands the walls of the classroom into the workplace, helping students see how their education can prepare them for future careers.

The Iowa Intermediary Network is one way our state is providing work-based learning opportunities for K-12 students. The program builds relationships among local employers, youth, schools and the community, and encourages more Iowans earn credentials of value to employers, such as the National Career Readiness Certificate. 

The Network is made up of 15 regional programs, each associated with a community college. Regional intermediaries develop partnerships with businesses and industries, professional organizations, schools and Iowa STEM. 

Last year, each region received about $97,000 to prepare students for the workforce by connecting them to work-based learning through these partnerships. Students get hands-on experience in potential fields to help them discover the right career path for them. Health sciences, manufacturing and STEM are the more popular fields for Iowa students to explore through work-based learning.

In 2016, Iowa’s Intermediary Network and its partners provided internships, job shadowing and workplace tours to 22,643 Iowa students. Additional educational activities—such as career fairs, presentations, business and industry panels, and open house events—gave 41,806 students opportunities to explore careers. It’s a cost-effective way to help students align their interests with the best-possible educational opportunities. 

DMACC’s Career Discovery Network works with a large number of students and has found Career Discovery Days to be a successful way of helping them explore future jobs. 

Learn more about our local work-based learning efforts in the latest Work-Based Learning Intermediary Network Report.


“Access to health care is essential to children’s healthy development and future success,” says Dr. Amy Shriver, an Iowa pediatrician. “Children learn best when they are healthy and safe. They need regular, preventive well-child checkups.”

Because a child’s health is so important to their future success, Iowa has made health insurance for kids a priority. We have consistently ranked among the top states in the country for children’s access to health and dental care.


However, more than 11,000 Iowa children could lose health insurance on January 1 if their parents are no longer able to buy policies previously available to them or if the policies become too expensive. This is a very real possibility for Iowa families that buy their own health insurance, such as small business owners, the self-employed or those who work for organizations that don’t offer group plans. 

The companies that have sold health insurance directly to Iowans are discontinuing those policies. Wellmark and Aetna have already dropped out, while Medica wants to increase insurance rates by 57 percent for some Iowans. At the same time, the U.S. Congress has made little progress coming up with an affordable solution that provides Americans with the health care they need. 

Under a new proposal, Iowa families unable to purchase health insurance elsewhere could buy insurance for their kids through Hawk-I, Iowa’s children’s health insurance program. Since it was started in 1999, Hawk-I has earned widespread praise for offering good care while being cost effective. Hawk-I provides coverage to more than 60,000 children, with parents paying premiums on a sliding scale, depending on their income.

Allowing additional families to purchase health insurance for their kids through Hawk-I is a straightforward solution. Parents would pay the full cost of the premiums, which are expected to be affordable due to the relatively low cost of insuring kids.

All we need is the federal government’s approval for Iowa parents to buy into Hawk-I. Please encourage Governor Reynolds to ask the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to allow more Iowa parents to purchase—without subsidy—Hawk-I coverage for their children. 



Schedule a classroom visit

Summer vacation is ending, and teachers and students are heading back to the classroom. I’m setting up my fall schedule, so if you’re interested in having me come to your school, give me a call or e-mail me. 

When I go “Back to School,” I get to talk with young people—our nation's future voters and leaders—about my job as a state legislator. It gives me the chance to answer questions, share ideas and listen to concerns.

The goal is to engage students and help them understand how democracy works. It’s one of my favorite parts of being a senator. 


7 things to look for in school board candidates

School board elections are coming up on Tuesday, September 12, when Iowans choose who will govern the education of more than 483,000 students. Local communities elect school board members every other year to four-year terms.