November 27, 2014

Free citizenship courses available online for Iowa schools

A new public-private partnership is offering all Iowa schools new “citizenship” courses for students in Iowa middle schools and high schools.

“This type of partnership and this type of curriculum being offered to teachers is extremely, extremely important,” says Brent Siegrist, executive director of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies. “This curriculum is research based. It’s been tested and it will be a real benefit to provide to teachers and students — every teacher and every student in the state of Iowa, free of cost.”

The course work is all posted online.

“And there is great interest in this curriculum in other states as well as other countries,” Siegrist says.

Plus, Iowa’s AEAs have the authority to charge educational institutions outside the state of Iowa that want to use the online coursework. Character Counts Iowa, a private organization based at Drake University, helped finance the project to collect and organize the coursework for middle schools and high schools.

“What’s exceptionally exciting about this particular curriculum is that these are resources that we’ve seen utilized not only in individual classroom settings, that we’ve seen in leadership development at the high school level, they’ve been embedded in community college level in degree programs at Des Moines Area Community College and we’ve seen ongoing professional development of these same resources at some of Iowa’s largest organizations: Principal Financial Group, Unity Point Health, HyVee,” says Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts Iowa, “all using these same materials.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says this citizenship course not only promotes leadership skills, it stresses the importance of working as a team, “and shapes an intentional culture of safety, respect and engagement.”

Governor Terry Branstad says this coursework will help Iowa students be “truly ready” for college and the work world.

“This is about educating the whole child,” Branstad says.

Here is a link to the “personalized” learning system set up by Iowa Area Education Agencies for this citizenship curriculum. (It requires registration and a password.)

Governor Branstad talks about importance of Thanksgiving

Governor Branstad (left) helps a granddaughter at the turkey pardon ceremony.

Governor Branstad (left) helps a granddaughter at the turkey pardon ceremony.

Governor Terry Branstad will be hosting his family’s Thanksgiving celebration today.

“Thanksgiving is a special holiday, it’s truly an American holiday where we really celebrate the founding of our nation, the pilgrims coming to America, the hardships that they overcame,” Branstad says. He says the holiday is a time to reflect on what we have.

“I think it’s also an important time for us to just say thanks to everyone who has done so much to give us the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy in this country — especially our military veterans,” according to Branstad.

The governor will be joined by his wife Chris, his kids and grandkids and some special friends for the holiday. He has this message for Iowans. “We wish a very blessed and enjoyable Thanksgiving to all Iowa families,” Branstad says.

Branstad pardoned two turkeys earlier this week in an annual ceremony, but he does plan to have the traditional turkey on his plate for the big dinner. “I’m a white meat eater, and my role is carving the turkey. Chris basically prepares it and I carve it,” Branstad explains. “We have other members of the family bring other food items as well.”

The governor is attending the annual community Thanksgiving service at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines today where parishioners dress in period garb. That service begins at 10 A.M.


Governor again calling for state employees to pay part of health care cost

Governor Terry Branstad

Governor Terry Branstad

The state opened negotiations Monday with the largest state employee union and health insurance is again an issue. The president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, requested an 8-percent increase in salaries over a two-year period, and wants the state to continue paying 100-percent of health insurance.

The state is proposing a 1 percent pay increase with state employees picking up 20 percent of the cost of insurance.

Governor Terry Branstad told reporters Monday that state workers should pay part of their insurance costs. “I have been on record for a long time in feeling that everybody ought to have some skin in the game, ought to make some contribution,” Branstad says.

Branstad sought the same thing during negotiations two years ago and ultimately an arbitrator ruled the state should continue to pay 100 percent of the health insurance, but denied the employees a pay raise.

Branstad says the union representing state law officers has agreed to pick up part of the cost of their insurance, and non-contract employees do as well. He says other state employees should also contribute. “Frankly we are paying a price for it not happening,” Branstad says. “The executive council had to approve a 40-million dollar increase in cost in our health care. And I think if people have some skin in and we work in a collaborative way together, we can do a better job of controlling health care costs for state employees.”

The negotiations on the new contract will resume in January behind closed doors.


State begins contract negotiations with largest employee union

The state and the largest employee union have started salary negotiations.

The state and the largest employee union have started salary negotiations.

Negotiators for the State of Iowa on Monday presented a contract proposal that differs greatly from the one submitted earlier this month by the largest state employees’ union. Danny Homan , president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, requested an 8 percent increase in salaries over a two-year period.

“Our proposal was 2 percent (pay raises) every six months, starting January 1, 2015, and keeping the current health insurance contract language,” Homan said. Janet Phipps, director of the state Department of Administrative Services, is leading the state’s negotiating team, which is proposing a 2-percent increase in salaries over the next two fiscal years.

“The state is proposing a one-percent across-the-board pay increase for each of the (fiscal) years, beginning on July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016,” Phipps told leaders of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 on Monday. The current contract has the state paying for 100-percent of the health insurance provided to state employees represented by AFSCME.

AFSCMEE president Danny Homan.

AFSCMEE president Danny Homan.

Phipps is suggesting those employees help cover a portion of their health care costs in the new contract. “The state is proposing that the state pay 80 percent…and the employee contribute 20 percent,” Phipps said.

Two years ago, Governor Branstad requested a similar proposal on health insurance — asking state employees to cover 20 percent. Those collective bargaining negotiations ended with an arbitrator rejecting the suggested cuts in state employee health insurance benefits, but also denying employees across-the-board pay raises.

Negotiations on the new contract, covering fiscal years 2015-16, will resume in January behind closed doors. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 represents roughly 40,000 state government employees.


Governor Branstad talks RFS, immigration and budget (audio)

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says the delay of the EPA’s change to the rule that sets the amount of renewable fuels used in the country is a mixed decision for Iowa. Branstad says it was good to see the EPA is waiting to change what’s called the Renewable Fuels Standard. “We’re disappointed because of the uncertainty,” Branstad says. “We thought the recommendation was bad, and as you know, we testified very vigorously and resisted it strongly. We’re pleased that they didn’t implement it.”

Branstad says he would have rather seen the EPA junk the change altogether, and he’s not sure if the added delay signals good news. “Well, I think that it’s good that they didn’t implement the proposed rule, but the delay also creates continued uncertainty,” Branstad says. “If we had more certainty, I think we’d see more expansion and more ethanol and cellulosic ethanol plants built, which would be good.” Branstad says the uncertainty hurts farmers as the price of corn is now below the cost or production.

He says the price of corn had always been above the cost of production with the RFS in place. On another topic, the governor says it’s unclear how the presidents action on immigration will impact Iowa.

“Well we don’t know and we are in the process of reviewing and trying to determine that. There are also constitutional questions about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this,” Branstad says. “So, I expect there’s going to be a lot of unanswered questions that we need to get information about and what impact it would have on our state.”

Branstad says doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants might be in Iowa that would be impact by the president’s action. “I don’t. And the federal government has not been forthright in sharing with us information with us on the ones that have been placed in our state. So, we have no way of knowing,” Branstad says.

The governor campaigned on the notion that the state is in much better financial shape than when he took over four years ago. He says while that is the case, it does not mean there’s more room in the state budget this year. “No, it doesn’t because we have made some big commitments. One is property tax relief — it’s a $4.4 billion commitment over a decade — and we also have the teacher leadership plan, which provides an additional $50 million a year each year to reward teachers for taking on more responsibility to improve education,” according to Branstad.

He says the current economic situation continues to be a concern as they move into budget negotiations. “Revenue is falling below expectations due to the disastrously low price of corn,” Branstad says. “And so agriculture which has been an important part of the Iowa economy and has really helped us do better than other states in recent years, has been hurt by the EPA and what they have done with the renewable fuel standard. “We’re going to have to continue to be frugal and careful.”

 Branstad made his comments to reporters following the annual ceremony to pardon two Thanksgiving turkeys.

Audio: Governor Branstad meeting with reporters. 14:00



Governor pardons two turkeys from Thanksgiving dinner


Governor Branstad joined Ag Secertary Bill Northey and turkey grower Noel Thompson to pardon Cranberry and Cinnamon.

Governor Terry Branstad issued a pardon today for two Iowa-grown turkeys on a windy cold day at Terrace Hill in Des Moines.

Noel Thompson raised the two turkeys at Circle Hill Farms in Elsworth, and says students at West Marshall elementary school chose the names for the birds. The male turkey is called Cranberry, which Thompson attributes in part to its appearance.

“His waddle maybe resembles cranberries just a little bit. And we called our hen here Cinnamon, because like so many times in life, women add a lot of spice to life,” Thompson says. The governor was joined by First Lady Chris Branstad and their grandchildren for the annual tradition. He says Iowa is a key turkey producer.

“This is a good lean high-protein nutritious food, and of course we all look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey,” Branstad says.

The governor read a proclamation sparing the two birds from being the main attraction at a Thursday dinner. “Now therefore, I Terry E. Branstad, governor of the State of Iowa do herby proclaim Cinnamon the turkey and Cranberry the turkey, free from the harm of the carving knives and gravy for this Thanksgiving,” Branstad says. “They’re going to living history farms.”



The turkeys stood patiently as Branstad’s grandkids petted them and then the group was joined by Thompson and state Ag Secretary Bill Northey for a picture. Branstad’s grandkids were saying “turkey, turkey” and “turkey pardoning” as they posed for the picture and the turkeys played along by gobbling for the grandkids.

Audio: Governor’s grandkids and the turkeys.

Thompson says 11-million turkeys are raised annually in Iowa, with the majority going to processing plants in Storm Lake and West Liberty where they are processed into sandwich meat.

“And most of those you will find people having for lunch every day of the week,” Thompson says. Thompson, who is president of the Iowa Turkey Federation,  says turkey prices have dropped a little this year as the cost of production has dropped along with grain prices. He says about 60-percent of the



cost of raising turkeys is for the feed. There are approximately 130 turkey farmers in the state.


Ethanol backers pleased with EPA pull back on renewable fuel standard

Gas pumpSupporters of renewable fuels in Iowa say they are pleased with the announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they delaying their decision on a proposal that would have dramatically cut the amount of renewable fuels required to be used in the country.

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director, Monte Shaw, has been fighting the decision on the federal Renewable Fuel Standard or RFS since it was announced.

“Well at this stage, I’m not sure what would surprise us,” Shaw. Shaw says he was at a rally with the governor and members of the congressional delegation to defend the RFS in Nevada at this time last year.

“And here we are one year later and they’re deciding they need more time to decide. So, I think the signs are clear that they’ve understood that this proposal isn’t going to fly that has been out there and they are going to redo it and get it right. So, I am going to be cautiously optimistic,” Shaw says.

The EPA proposal would cut the amount of ethanol required in the RFS by 3 billion gallons. Shaw says there is some good news in the decision to take more time. “If they wanted to just finalize the draft proposal, they had 365 days to do it and they didn’t,” Shaw says. “So that tells me that clearly they got a message that they need to get back to having the RFS do what it was supposed to do — which is help consumers get access to the higher ethanol blends, biodiesel blends and cellulosic ethanol.”

Shaw says ethanol has continued to show its importance as a fuel. “Ethanol is still the cheapest source of fuel on the planet, not just octane, but it’s still cheaper than gasoline. So, the more ethanol we get in our fuel supply, the cheaper it is going to be,” Shaw says. “Part of the reason that they had originally put our the draft rule that would have gutted the RFS is they were concerned about gas prices. And that you wouldn’t be able to use enough ethanol and that would cause gas prices to go up.”

He says those fears were unfounded. “I think the market over the last 12 months has shown that that was a misplaced fear, that that was a big oil talking point, that unfortunately the administration bought into for some time,” Shaw says. Shaw isn’t ready to say the RFS fight is over, but he is happy with the EPA’s latest move. “Again, I’m going to be optimistic that this is the administration saying we need to hit the reset button on this proposal. We need to go back and get the numbers right, get the methodology right and get back to having the RFS do what it was supposed to, which is to crack the monopoly that oil has,” according to Shaw.

Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa’s Ag Secretary, Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, all issued statements praising the decision to delay the action on the EPA renewable fuels proposal.