In 2021, Kelli Greenland and her two children used food pantries more often than they ever have. As the year closes, the Des Moines mom is filled with uncertainty. Greenland said she visits one or two food pantries weekly to keep her children, Ethan, 8, and Skylynn, almost 6, fed. There seems to be less meat available these days, Greenland said. She sometimes has trouble finding dairy-free options for Skylynn, who is lactose intolerant.
The requirements for becoming a teacher were always straightforward: Earn a college degree in education, take enough classes in your area of specialty, practice your teaching skills for a semester as a student teacher. Politicians have added a new skill this year in some states: Be a mind reader. That’s what teachers in a Texas school district concluded recently after receiving guidance for how to comply with a law passed this summer by the Texas Legislature and signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The law, known as H.B. 3979, restricts how topics like race, sex, diversity and discrimination are taught and discussed by Texas public school employees and in textbooks and other course materials teachers use. A companion bill, S.B. 3, discourages teachers from addressing current events in their social studies classes.
As tourists flock to Iowa’s state parks in record numbers, the park system struggles to sustain adequate funding from the state, despite being a major contributor to its economy and an escape for Iowans amidst a global pandemic, an investigation by IowaWatch has found. Iowa’s park system is one of state government’s most popular programs. Visitations skyrocketed to a record 16.6 million last year. That record reflects an upward trend dating back to 1995. Yet the number of park rangers needed to serve that influx has gone in reverse while state funding for parks remained flat, according to data from the nonprofit Iowa Parks Foundation. “These places have to be maintained to be preserved and protected, and it does require resources,” said Patricia Boddy, a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who was involved in a 2011 comprehensive architectural design study of parks.
Some Ankeny parents are frustrated after receiving a letter Wednesday night that the Ankeny Community School District will not require students to quarantine if they have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“At this time, our public health authorities have informed us that the district may not quarantine students,” said the letter from Erick Pruitt, who began as district superintendent in July. “We will continue to collaborate with the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Polk County Health Department to ensure our actions are aligned with their direction. We recognize that this guidance is subject to change. Please refer to the Iowa Department of Public Health for the most recent guidance.”
Ankeny is the sixth-largest district in the state with more than 12,000 students and 2,285 employees, according to the district website. LaKeshia Richmond of Ankeny is a mother of three children.
It’s hard for those of us of a certain vintage to realize it has been 39 years since Robert Ray was Iowa’s governor. In spite of the passage of so much time, his name was on the minds of many people last week. What triggered the Bob Ray memories was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ interview with WHO Radio on Thursday. Reynolds was asked about the thousands of children, mostly from Central America, who are showing up this year at our border with Mexico without their parents. They arrive hoping to be allowed to live in the United States with relatives or sponsors, freeing them from the deadly violence and the grip of poverty so common where they came from.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ message for Iowans has been consistent since the coronavirus pandemic arrived a year ago:
Yes, wearing masks is important, the governor has made clear, but government should leave it to people to do right thing. Reynolds has been under intense pressure, both for and against facial masks. Advocates for a mask mandate have said she could save countless lives and slow the spread of disease if she required masks to be worn whenever people are in public places or large groups. But government should not dictate people’s behavior, Reynolds insists. Randy Evans
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
Iowa’s state park rangers — certified peace officers who safeguard the state’s premier outdoor recreational areas — are having to confront an increasingly endangered species: themselves. Budget cuts have severely thinned the ranks of state park rangers over years — to 35 this year from between 45 and 55 in the late 1990s, State Parks Bureau data show. As a result, far fewer park rangers are now serving far more visitors to state parks. An IowaWatch review of state historical data shows that the ratio of park rangers to annual park visits has gone from one ranger per 217,700 visits in 1995 to one ranger per 422,269 visits in 2019. The shortage has gotten more severe this year — the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s state park system — as thousands more visitors flocked to state parks to relieve their COVID-19 isolation.
Early in 2020, a movement picked up pace at the Iowa State Capitol to provide more money to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented the Invest in Iowa Act, which would increase the state sales tax by a penny to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust. It was a move 10 years in the making. In 2010, Iowans voted to create the trust fund through a constitutional amendment, but the fund has never been funded. The governor’s plan would have tweaked the original formula to finance not only water quality and conservation programs but also mental health programs, while cutting income and property taxes.
When the Iowa Legislature wrote the state’s public records law 50 years ago, lawmakers wanted to guarantee that anyone could obtain copies of state and local government records that are not designated by statute to be kept confidential. There is no asterisk in the law. There is no exemption saying the governor can ignore the statute. But there is evidence Gov. Kim Reynolds believes otherwise. Lawyers representing the governor made a troubling admission this month in a Polk County District Court lawsuit.
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.