The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

February 15, 2013

Area legislators assess 2013 session thus far

DES MOINES — State Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, answered the phone Thursday afternoon even though business was continuing at the statehouse

“We had just finished with the education committee, and I had to go after that,” she said.

Gaskill said she wasn’t happy with the education online courses. In three years, some Iowa leaders want to start the school year with the cost of $250 per course per student. Then they want to add on fees per session through the four quarters of a year.

“That bill went to the ways and means committee because of the fees,” Gaskill said. “I voted against that. I thought it was a high amount, and I don’t know how schools can afford it.”

Gaskill said Gov. Terry Branstad has said he won’t allow allowable growth until the Legislature gets the education reform bill done.

“We dealt with the $250 fee, and it did pass out of the ways and means committee,” she said. “I voted no. I thought it was too much of a cost for our schools to handle.”

Gaskill believes the money will go toward the addition of 19 employees to the the Iowa Department of Education.

“That makes me mad, especially when they’re cutting other places,” she said. “They don’t treat the Iowa Department of Human Services right, for example.”

Gaskill said three positions will probably go to teachers who will live in Des Moines to teach online courses instead of going to teachers in the rural areas.

Fellow legislator, state Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, said he likes to talk about the future of education and favors a university online. He believes educational opportunities “will be more and more online.

“I’d like to see Iowa lead the way and watch how to use current technology in education,” he said. “We can save money, offer better education and some social interaction.”

Chelgren also noted a strong online education will be in the governor’s educational reform package, which will change “how we do education now” as opposed to the earlier version.

“Iowa is stagnant and other states have passed us,” he said. “I’d like to see us have the opportunity for kids and families to make their own decisions.”

He doesn’t like it when state leaders think they know everything about local communities, schools and districts.

Chelgren said he’d like to see more local money invested. With that, he’d like to decrease income tax for working citizens and also for older residents who have retired.

“When people retire, every few dollars matters a lot,” he added.

State Rep. Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, noted that the education reform “is moving forward” but the bill was “very much downsized.

“In short, the amended school reform bill scales back the governor’s plan, makes most of the plan optional, and underfunds what remains,” Hanson said. “All of this is done while growing the number of Department of Education employees and transferring local authority to Des Moines.”

Hanson believes the reform presented isn’t supported by adequate research.

“Most of us know of the failure that was caused when inadequate research suggested the introduction of the ‘new math’ curriculum and the ‘new Coca-Cola formula.’”

Hanson also spoke of supporting land, water and conservation issues.

“I don’t think we can push the cost off onto other citizens,” he said. “The trees are the lungs of our land,  and we have to protect those. But, at the same time, we don’t want to turn the land into a private hunting ground for out-of-state visitors.”

Hanson has two bills in the legislature and has included input from various groups of people, such as assessors, landowners, conservation groups, tree farmers and others.

He considers the situation a growing concern because of out-of-state hunters, landlords and others.

“If [these] people pay no taxes, then there won’t be any funds for roads or fire departments,” Hanson said. “We may have to charge a minimum fee, like Davis County did. Every dollar counts.”

Hanson is also involved with agriculture and wants to help young farmers rent land from retiring farmers. He said such a project would “make it easier for young farmers.”

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