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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

September 10, 2018

Des Moines Register. September 6, 2018

Increase in school suspensions of Iowa’s K-2 students is alarming

A few weeks ago, youngsters across Iowa loaded up backpacks, posed for photos and headed back to school for a new year. Right about now, they’re settling into daily routines, memorizing locker combinations and getting to know their teachers.

What comes next?

Maybe getting kicked out of school.

During the 2016-17 school year, Iowa schools “removed” students, including many in elementary school, more than 49,000 times. Offenses included fighting, truancy, smoking, theft and inappropriate displays of affection. About half the students received in-school suspension, half out-of-school suspension and 120 were expelled, according to a report from the Iowa Department of Education.

Removing kids from class is sometimes necessary. Schools must be able to hold students accountable for wrongdoing. Yet suspensions, particularly out-of-school suspensions, should be the consequence of last resort.

Banishing kids, sometimes for several days, disconnects them from their schools. They lose instructional time and may be forced to give up their part in a school play or miss sports practice — perhaps the only activities motivating them to attend in the first place.

If removal is absolutely necessary, in-school suspensions make more sense. Students still have to get up in the morning and get to the building. They can sit in a room and study. Teachers are able to give them tests so they don’t fall behind. The school sends a message students still have a place there, even if they are in trouble.

Studies show suspensions do not improve school safety or student behavior and may increase the likelihood of academic problems, violent behavior and future incarceration. That’s understandable. Being sent away from the very environment where one is supposed to be nurtured results in feelings of rejection and abandonment.

Fortunately, many Iowa education officials seem to have recognized the negative consequences of suspending kids. Between 2014 and 2017, there was an 11 percent overall reduction in removals and a 30 percent reduction in suspensions of high-school students.

Unfortunately, during the same period there was a nearly 20 percent increase in kindergartners, 1st- and 2nd-graders formally kicked out of public school classrooms in this state. These youngest children received suspensions 3,842 times in the 2016-17 school year. There was a similar increase in suspensions of 3rd- though 5th-graders, who were removed more than 7,000 times.

What does one have to do to get kicked out of kindergarten? What is the long-term psychological impact on elementary school students?

“While school discipline is a local decision, suspension and expulsion of 5- to 7-year-old students should be a last resort,” said Staci Hupp, spokesperson for the state education agency. The department has been working with schools to adopt strategies that encourage positive student behavior and reduce removals.

Education officials should make this issue a priority. They should work to understand why so many of Iowa’s youngest students are being formally removed from class and why there has been such a significant increase in recent years. There is something wrong when 20 percent of suspensions are imposed on youth in grade school.

Everyone understands kids sometimes do incredibly stupid and sometimes dangerous things. Schools have limited options for punishment. But depriving students of education and sending a message of rejection likely does more harm than good, particularly when a child is 6 or 7 years old.

Why do Iowa students get suspended from schools?

Iowa school districts are required to report formal removals of students to the Iowa Department of Education. During the 2016-17 school year, schools removed students nearly 50,000 times. How those offenses break down: 3,590 abusive or inappropriate language; 344 alcohol related; 34 arson; 29 bomb threat; 641 bullying; 250 combustible related; 9,178 defiance/noncompliance; 1,943 disrespect; 3,508 disruption; 44 dress code violation; 1,215 drug related; 38 forgery/plagiarism; 20 gang affiliation display; 1,103 harassment; 118 inappropriate display of affection; 397 inappropriate location; 74 lying/cheating; 2,887 “other”; 2,541 physical aggression with injury; 57 physical aggression with serious injury; 8,183 physical aggression without injury; 938 physical fighting with injury; 35 physical fighting with serious injury; 4,705 physical fighting without injury; 548 property damage/vandalism; 1,152 skip class; 2 special education administrative law judge; 505 tardy; 593 technology violation; 1,011 theft; 815 tobacco related; 2,464 truancy; and 875 weapons related.

Information compiled in the state’s annual Condition of Education report raises questions about huge discrepancies in the number of suspensions between school districts. For example, Davenport has about 14,700 students and suspended youth 4,180 times, while Des Moines, with more than twice as many students, suspended kids 4,287 times.

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Quad City Times. September 5, 2018.

What’s Fred Hubbell hiding?

Fred Hubbell is hiding something. Or, at the very least, he made damned sure it looked that way.

The Democratic nominee in Iowa’s gubernatorial race this past week insulted voters’ intelligence with a three-page summary of his 2017 tax returns. The move was in response to pressure applied by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who last month released 10 years’ worth of tax returns.

It’s noteworthy that the year vaguely outlined by Hubbell’s campaign also happened to be the one where he decided to mount a gubernatorial bid. There can be little doubt that Hubbell’s political aspirations influenced financial decisions, such as charitable giving and effective tax rate. Five years-worth of returns is the bare minimum here.

But most telling was Democrats’ willingness to perform intellectual gymnastic in defense of Hubbell’s so-called nod to transparency, which included no information on where Hubbell’s $3 million in income came from.

“I don’t know that (the source of income) is as important as disclosing how much income you have, how much tax you paid and what percentage of your income that you give to charity,” Jeff Link, a Hubbell adviser and longtime Democratic operative, said to The Des Moines Register.

Link has been in this line of business for years. He knows that assertion is bogus.

Concerns about conflicts of interest are why politicians are regularly under pressure to release detailed tax filings. Reynolds earned just a fraction of Hubbell’s annual take. And, as a government employee, is substantially less likely to hold large financial holdings that might shape her politics. As such, kicking out a decade’s worth of tax information was relatively easy for Iowa’s governor.

But Hubbell’s response was a a slap in the face to any voter generally interested in Hubbell’s ability to govern without favor. Last week’s offering only served to bolster voters’ concern that Hubbell’s primary interests might be different from the state’s. It’s likely that Hubbell’s campaign hoped to avoid falling into Reynolds’ trap of appearing an out-of-touch rich guy. Instead, it exposed Hubbell as a man unwilling to expose himself to voter scrutiny.

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Sioux City Journal. September 9, 2018

Expo center: A valuable, versatile and unique amenity,

We recognize the need for continued expansion of our local economy. As we have said before in this space, as a mid-sized Midwest city without, say, a state Capitol, a state university, or natural draws like mountains or ocean, Sioux City must work hard and creatively in an intensely competitive environment for economic growth and prosperity. One crucial component to this strategy is pursuit of and investment in a full spectrum of amenities

To this end, we believe the Siouxland Expo Center proposed in the former stockyards area represents another in a growing list of local quality-of-life projects important to drawing visitors and new residents and retaining the residents we have.

Yes, the expo center is different in some ways than what originally was proposed for the former John Morrell plant site: Due to cost, overall square footage of the project was reduced and equestrian-related features were eliminated. The word “ag” was dropped from the name to emphasize a broader diversity of events. To help meet an expressed local need, additions were made to accommodate youth athletic events.

The end result of this evolution will be a valuable, versatile $12.5 million multi-purpose center with 80,000 square feet of exposition space. In our view, this unique addition to our city will complement, not compete with, existing public venues as well as private plans for The Arena youth athletics complex.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. September 9, 2018

It’s almost harvest time in Iowa.

Agriculture remains a key part of the state’s rapidly growing economy.

Since human beings first learned to cultivate the soil, harvest time has had extraordinary significance. In earlier centuries, good crops meant prosperity and security. They signaled that the winter months just ahead could be faced without fear of starvation.

In 21st-century Iowa, harvest season may not have quite the stark, life-or-death importance it did in more primitive times, but it remains enormously consequential. Agriculture is the centerpiece of the Hawkeye State’s economy. When crops reach maturity and are ready for market, the ramifications for the financial well-being of not only farmers, but many others who call Iowa home are huge.

That makes this time of year an especially apt moment to reflect on the state’s agricultural economy.

Most years Iowa is the nation’s top producer — or close to it — of corn, soybeans, hogs and pigs. It also is a major factor in production of a wide range of other agricultural products.

The 2017 state agricultural overview for Iowa prepared by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides an impressive portrait of farming in our state. Here are a few of the highlights:

. Iowa has approximately 87,000 farms.

. Those farms cover 30,500,000 acres of land.

. The average farm is 351 acres.

. The livestock inventory includes 4 million cattle and calves, 22.9 million hogs and pigs and 165,000 sheep.

. The market value of the state’s crops in 2017 was more than $17 billion.

. The market value of Iowa’s livestock, poultry and their products exceeded $13 billion.

America’s farmers grow far more than is needed for domestic uses. Consequently, exporting agricultural products has become of great importance to the U.S. economy.

Iowa’s farms help feed not only our nation, but also the world beyond. They are vital contributors to the state’s prosperity and that of the entire nation.

A good harvest in Iowa has great significance locally, but it is very good news for people the world over.

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