Evans: There’s more at stake than new road signs

Tucked away among hundreds of bills being considered this year by the Iowa Legislature is one people might have quickly embraced in a different era.But times have changed. It has been 38 years since Robert Ray left the governor’s office. State government today is far messier than it was back then.Compounding the reaction to Senate File 404 has been the social and political upheaval in Iowa in recent years — enough to bring out pundits with their potshots.The seemingly innocuous piece of legislation appropriates $350,000 for the Iowa Department of Transportation to replace the 68 “Welcome” signs along Iowa’s borders. The bill also contains a requirement that the new signs incorporate what it calls a “different and distinct” design and message for travelers.The current signs say, “The People of Iowa Welcome You,” with the secondary message, “Iowa, Field of Opportunities.”The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Carrie Koelker of Dyersville, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “This is something that I think is important, that we make sure as a state that we upgrade our image.”The “Field of Opportunities” slogan was adopted in 1999 when Tom Vilsack was governor. Iowa’s current marketing slogan — “This is Iowa” — seems more like something intended for lost motorists.The bill opened the spigot to a stream of creative juices at Raygun, the Des Moines company that sells smarty-pants T-shirts with a Midwest political and cultural flavor. Owner Mike Draper’s Facebook post produced a flood of suggestions for slogans for those new “Welcome” signs.Among them:“Iowa.

Weeks into vaccine rollout, some in Iowa worry about being left behind

Like many states, Iowa is now weeks into distributing the coronavirus vaccine to residents who are 65 or older. With vaccine demand still far outstripping supply, many Iowans are struggling to get an appointment and are frustrated. But some worry the state’s most vulnerable residents are also at risk for getting left behind. 

Chuck Betts is 74 and lives in eastern Iowa. He says getting an appointment to get vaccinated was anything but easy. He started by calling 2-1-1.

Rural areas face challenges in COVID vaccine rollout

Across the Midwest, the rollout of COVID vaccines has been spotty. Lots of people are having a trouble with online signups. And vaccine demand far exceeds supply. That’s made the process challenging, especially in rural areas. For years, the Girls State Training School in central Iowa has sat mostly empty.

The people behind a rural Iowa school district enduring the coronavirus

Gusty winds blew corn husks through the school’s parking lot on November 16 at South Hamilton 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. The collaboration was made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. It was another day of the staff trying to keep up with the daily reports of sickened students and faculty, making sure kids pumped hand sanitizer and wore face masks nearly all the time, properly social distanced during band practice and lunch periods, and pivoted from teaching in-person and virtual learners while taking extra time to help those struggling. 

Even the lunchroom is different this year. Cafeteria tables limit seating.

IowaWatch joins national collaboration on rural education during COVID-19

The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism – IowaWatch.org has been selected as a partner to report on how COVID-19 is changing and challenging rural school districts, the Institute for Nonprofit News reported. It is IowaWatch’s third reporting collaboration in the past year. “Our goal is to look at the smaller districts that have fewer resources and how they are meeting the challenges of learning during a global pandemic,” said Executive Director Suzanne Behnke. The Walton Family Foundation is providing a grant that will allow IowaWatch and other collaboration members, El Paso Matters, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico In-Depth, Scalawag, Underscore Media and Wisconsin Watch, to report and write on rural schools in their respective states during the 2020-2021 school year. The project will produce three reports by IowaWatch and by each member over the six months of the grant, at the start of the school year, toward the middle of the fall and a last installment toward the end of 2020.