Political News

Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

Posted August 7

Des Moines Register. August 3, 2017

Learning one language isn't enough, Iowa

Iowa was once known as the crème de la crème in primary education, raising children who ranked near the top in college readiness and math and reading scores.

Now, the status quo is mediocrity. The latest evidence: In a nation known for its foreign-language illiteracy, Iowa ranks below average in the percentage of students learning a world language.

This is the result, in part, of the state's modus operandi of underfunding education. Many Iowa schools can't afford to offer more than one foreign language in high school and nothing in lower grades.

Continuing to fail, however, need not be a fait accompli. Gov. Kim Reynolds has focused on expanding opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math for students. These topics are critical for Iowa's competitiveness. But we should not send the message that mastering coding language is more important than learning Chinese or Spanish.

As the U.S. lags other countries in language learning, Iowa has fallen behind its neighboring states.

About 15 percent of Iowa's K-12 students were enrolled in a foreign language course in 2014-15, according to a report published by the American Councils for International Education and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

That puts Iowa 35th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, and near the bottom in the Midwest. Nebraska, the Dakotas and Missouri have a higher percentage of students learning a foreign language.

Evidence shows that the earlier students get instruction in a foreign language, the more likely they will become proficient and the better they will do academically overall. Yet Iowa districts are not required to offer courses until high school. Most elementary schools offer nada.

Wisconsin ranked No. 3 in the report, with more than 36 percent of students learning a foreign language. The state requires schools to offer foreign language courses starting in seventh grade and encourages schools to start earlier. And it offers the Seal of Biliteracy, which a student receives after taking a test to show proficiency in English and another language.

Iowa lawmakers failed to pass a bill allowing the seal this past legislative session.

One problem Iowa and most states face is a shortage of qualified teachers, according to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Iowa teacher salaries rank in the middle of the country, so the odds are against it in the race for teachers — particularly after the Legislature passed the law this year shrinking public employees' collective-bargaining rights.

The classroom shouldn't be the only opportunity for foreign-language learning. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences report recommends partnerships between businesses and schools, more opportunities for students to study abroad and ways for students to immerse themselves in other cultures.

Business leaders understand that as commerce becomes increasingly global, knowledge of another language is de rigueur. National security experts urge students to learn critical-need languages, such as Arabic, Korean and Russian.

Yet an anti-immigrant zeitgeist can undermine these efforts. Qatar Foundation International, which supports Arabic language instruction in U.S. schools, faces anti-Islamic opposition. In 2015, residents in Houston protested at an Arabic Immersion Magnet School.

Federal policies can also build walls between cultures. A bill to curb legal immigration, which President Donald Trump promoted this week, would favor immigrants who know English. Such a move would not help efforts to increase bilingualism among native-born Americans.

Iowa is justifiably proud of its international connections, including having a former governor as ambassador in Beijing. Our new governor and other state leaders can take advantage of this to promote learning Chinese or another foreign language. Iowa can be on the avant-garde in foreign language education.

____

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. August 1, 2017

Cities differ on roundabouts

With Waterloo apparently leaning toward a reconstructed University Avenue sans roundabouts, there are bound to be a lot of comparisons with the Cedar Falls University Avenue project.

In fact, comparisons and criticisms already are being seen in responses to the original article July 25 and on social media. We don't see any upside to the criticisms of alternate decisions for separate municipalities.

Representatives from AECOM, which was hired to design the 2.83-mile reconstruction of University from U.S. Highway 63 to Cedar Falls city limits at Midway Drive, unveiled its proposed design to Waterloo City Council members last Monday.

AECOM's Larry Wiele said a 2011 Iowa Department of Transportation traffic study showed only two of the intersections on Waterloo's portion of University Avenue should have the safer but more costly roundabouts.

"That study found that at most of the locations along University Avenue, the signalized intersections operated better than roundabouts," Wiele said. "We found that construction of roundabouts will have some fairly severe impacts to right of way and to access in most locations."

AECOM also referred to the 2011 study earlier this year, stating it showed traffic signals would have fewer delays and affect fewer businesses.

Councilmen Steve Schmitt and Pat Morrissey were both worried about the lack of aesthetic enhancements.

"I've heard some concern about if Waterloo's portion of University Avenue would be more ... kind of 'Spartanish' compared to what Cedar Falls is doing . with all the ornate things they've added," Schmitt said July 24.

Conversely, the decision made in Cedar Falls certainly has had its detractors for the opposite reasons - adding costs for roundabouts, acquiring right of way and adding landscape and walkway improvements.

Between the two cities, it's a great example of the fact you will face criticism whichever way you go.

The Waterloo plan reduces the road width from six to four lanes, with a raised median from U.S. 63 to Tunis Drive, near the Hy-Vee gas station and former Hobby Lobby. The stretch from Tunis west to Midway Drive would be five lanes, with the center turning lane providing better access to businesses.

Meanwhile, Cedar Falls crews are making visible progress. The first phase, generally in front of the College Square Mall, is nearly complete. Work will begin soon at the Cedar Heights Drive intersection, where another roundabout will be constructed, and there will be paving in the vicinity of the Rownd Street intersection.

In Waterloo, the plan is to have bid letting in the winter, with construction from Midway to Ansborough Avenue in 2018 and 2019. A second phase to renovate the road from Ansborough to U.S. 63 would come in future years.

A decision on no roundabouts in Waterloo doesn't mean Cedar Falls is wrong. And the decision for roundabouts in Cedar Falls should have no impact on Waterloo's plans.

However, it is a main road that goes through both communities. And, naturally, there is already some second-guessing with the two communities using different strategies.

Remember, jurisdiction of the roadway was recently in the hands of the Iowa DOT. That jurisdiction was transferred to the cities in exchange for $20 million in Cedar Falls, and $28 million in Waterloo.

That transfer has spurred needed action for University Avenue repair.

Like Cedar Falls has done, Waterloo is closing in on a plan to go forward, repairing a dilapidated roadway that had been drawing complaints for years from residents and visitors alike.

The fact they may ultimately come to different conclusions regarding roundabouts and other tangential work is secondary.

These respective communities have taken control, have done their due diligence in studying alternatives and have been or will be making decisions based on what's best for their communities - financially, aesthetically and with regard to businesses along the corridor.

___

Fort Dodge Messenger. August 4, 2017

Community Health Center is a vital asset

Providing affordable health care that puts meeting each patient's needs with compassion at the heart of the process has long been the focus of the valuable services provided to our town by the Community Health Center of Fort Dodge

Thanks in part to a $1 million grant made available through the Health Infrastructure Investment Program, the CHC has completed a $1.6 million expansion project. The clinic at 126 N. 10th St. has doubled its number of dental labs and nearly doubled the number of medical exam rooms. Additionally, new office spaces have been created and there is a completely redesigned entry area where patients check in.

These upgrades will enable CHC to respond better to the increasing need for its multifaceted services. The center served 6,339 people in 2016, up from 5,886 patients in 2015. Further growth in its patient population is expected this year and in the years ahead so the additional space was very much needed.

The CHC's roots go back to the late 1990s when local churches, physicians, agencies and businesses in Fort Dodge identified a need for medical and dental assistance in the community. Free clinics began in 1999. Federal funds began arriving in 2005.

The Community Health Center of Fort Dodge became a Federally Qualified Health Center (another name for Community Health Center) in 2006. It provides comprehensive primary health care to medically underserved populations regardless of ability to pay. There is a sliding fee scale for any its services that takes into account the financial needs of clients who don't have insurance.

Fundraising from the community is important to the CHC's future. In the coming weeks, it will hold its first family fun run called "Run for the health of it" to raise money for a digital otoscope — equipment for ear examinations. Its third annual Masquerade Ball will be held at Shimkat Motors on Oct. 7 to generate money for the center's operation.

The Messenger congratulates the team at the Community Health Center on the recent enhancements to the clinic and applauds the important work they undertake. We urge our readers to support its fundraisers. Keeping the CHC strong is important to the future of our town and county.

___

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. August 4, 2017

Hardly 'fake," whistleblowers U.S. heroes

With all the clamoring these days about information "leaks" and "fake news," some clarity is in order.

Lately, all sorts of information is being dumped into the cauldron of "fake news." That includes accurate news reporting that is so unflattering that institutions or individuals attempt to discredit it by trying to hang the "fake-news" label on it.

Then, there are certain facts that withstand fake-news complaints, so aggrieved parties roll out the allegation of "leaks" of confidential or even classified information. Such was the case the other day during the eye-blink tenure of Anthony Scaramucci, who claimed that reporting of some of his financial information was a "leak" and should be investigated. However, all the reporter did was cite financial disclosure documents he submitted to the government. They are in the public domain — available to anyone and everyone. So much for the "leak."

Lately, we've seen whistleblowers — the courageous individuals who report illegal, unethical or wasteful actions in government or business — lumped into the category of "leakers." These men and women risk their careers — and usually see them short-circuited or lost — but nonetheless report the problems they see. Whistleblowers are often treated as workplace pariahs.

Fortunately, Sen. Chuck Grassley is having none of it. The Iowa Republican is a long-time opponent of fraud, waste and mismanagement in government, and he's an advocate for and defender of whistleblowers.

Grassley, R-Iowa, stood up for and protected whistleblowers long before he became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee starting in 2015. But as chair of the powerful committee, his words and actions now carry more clout.

For example, Grassley stayed on the Department of Veterans Affairs' case regarding Brandon Coleman, who reported the VA's poor treatment of suicidal veterans in Arizona, where he ran an addiction treatment program.

As the saying goes, "No good deed goes unpunished."

For his temerity to report the disgraceful treatment of our veterans, the VA stuck Coleman on administrative leave for more than a year. Through a settlement agreement reached through the Office of Special Counsel, Coleman has returned to active status with the VA — assigned, appropriately, to the department's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

If not for Grassley, chances are Coleman would still be in the VA's version of Siberia — or worse.

Coincidentally, Grassley spoke at a Whistleblower Appreciation Day luncheon last week, and he emphasized the importance of whistleblowers, who, he noted, are typically "treated like skunks at a picnic."

He also said, in part:

. "Whistleblowers have exposed waste, fraud, and abuse in just about every industry and agency in this country. The issues they report can involve millions and even billions of taxpayer dollars. They can also literally be matters of life and death."

. "They are just ordinary people like you and me, who see something wrong and want to fix it. Nobody is perfect — people and organizations make mistakes, waste money, or even break the law. When you see that kind of fraud, waste, and abuse, you have a choice. You can go along to get along or you can speak up."

. "Whistleblowers are the ones who tell you what's broken, so you can fix it. Thanks largely to whistleblowers, the government has recovered more than $53 billion in taxpayer money lost to fraud under the False Claims Act. That will get you to the moon and back 72 times."

. "I believe whistleblowers are patriots and heroes."

Considering whistleblowers' great risks for little or no reward, yet the tremendous service they provide, Grassley's depiction is spot-on.___

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