Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers


The Gazette. Nov. 13, 2012.

Alcohol battle numbers tell us . what?

It's unsurprising that more University of Iowa students are being arrested for alcohol violations, given the institution's 2-year-old initiative to crack down on problem drinking among students.

We just wish it was as easy to make the numbers tell us more about trends in dangerous drinking among UI students, and whether that crackdown is having its intended effect.

Are more students drinking or are more getting caught? What, if anything, do increases in arrests for crimes such as drunk driving tell us about the city's bar curfew law? Has the problem simply resurfaced off campus, as opponents predicted? And what do we make of the sharp spike in female arrests?

And the most important question of all: Will the UI ever be able to get a handle on this culture of dangerous drinking?

In the past two years, there has been a 57 percent increase in the number of female students arrested or ticketed by UI and Iowa City police officers, according to the UI Office of the Dean of Students.

Although they didn't give a more detailed breakdown, school officials say alcohol is involved with most student arrests and citations. While it's just one indicator, some say the increase in female student arrests could mean UI women increasingly are taking part in high-risk drinking.

That's a trend that's not unique to the UI, but if dangerous drinking is, in fact, on the rise among UI women — despite all the time and resources the school is dedicating toward tempering students' drinking behaviors — it would be disappointing.

There was more troubling news in the numbers — such as a 20 percent increase in public intoxication charges and 37 percent increase in arrests for operating while intoxicated.

Do those figures signify an increase in those behaviors or simply reflect stepped-up enforcement?

One possible clue to the big picture: a recent increase in alcohol-related visits to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. There were 416 alcohol-related visits to that hospital between June 1, 2011, and May 31, 2012, compared with 364 during the same time the year before. The hospital does not keep records of how many of those patients were UI students.

At the least, it's one more concerning statistic to add to the rest — hinting, if not conclusively showing, the UI's battle with alcohol is far from won


The Des Moines Register. Nov. 14, 2012.

Better ways for college credit than AP classes

Families worry about the cost of higher education. Parents save what they can. Some also encourage their teens to sign up for college-level courses during high school. Earning college credit ahead of time can significantly reduce the expense of tuition down the road. Fortunately, Iowa schools offer many opportunities.

Each year thousands of teens sign up for "concurrent enrollment" classes. These are community college courses taught in high schools by teachers who have met specific requirements. A science or foreign language class in a Des Moines high school, for example, might also earn students credit at Des Moines Area Community College. Both institutions send a report card. High schools receive millions of dollars in additional state aid for offering these classes, and students pay nothing for the college-level classes.

Then there are Advanced Placement courses. These are not technically college courses, but some colleges will give students credit if their end-of-class score on the AP exam is high enough. Colleges set their own minimum score. To earn AP credit, students must score at least a 3 on a 5-point exam at the end of the school year (even if they finish the course in December). The problem: Last year only 9.7 percent of Iowa high school students did well enough to possibly be granted credit for the course by a college later.

This painfully low rate, which is about half the national average, raises obvious questions: Are instructors prepared to teach AP courses? Are students being pushed into classes they do not have the foundation to succeed in?

John Tierney, a Boston teacher who taught both college and AP high school courses, is among those asking such questions. In an Atlantic article last month titled "AP Classes Are a Scam," he wrote that these classes are not equivalent to college-level courses he has taught. He noted that the College Board, which earns half its revenue from the AP courses offered in 39 subjects, "has the mentality of a voracious corporation." Schools shift strong teachers from other classes and forgo opportunities like "honors" classes which he believes better prepare students for college.

Schools should do all they can to give students challenging academic options. But offering more AP courses may not be the best way to do that.

Families may not realize that many classes are designated as both AP and "concurrent." A passing grade will earn students credit at a community college, regardless of how well they do on the AP exam. In these cases, do the students really need to take the AP test? (Probably not, a college admissions counselor said, unless the student plans to attend an Ivy League school. Community college credit is the better option.)

Also, families pay $89 for each AP final exam. A student at Central Academy in Des Moines could rack up hundreds of dollars in test expenses. If students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the College Board cuts the cost of the exam by $28. Schools give up the $8 they would usually receive for administrative costs and then struggle to come up with the money to cover the final $53 price tag.

It is important to provide high-level courses to students, but students should not be asked to pay for a test to complete a class in a public school. It is especially concerning when about 90 percent of them do not do well enough to earn AP credit for it — and they may be receiving community college credit for it anyway.


Quad-City Times. Nov. 15, 2012.

Wind tax credit is good for Iowa

We're so glad to see Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley joining a bipartisan call to extend the wind energy tax credit less than a week after Election Day.

Both had been clear the wind energy tax credit is paramount for national energy independence. Both have been clear wind energy is essential to thousands of Iowa jobs, including the 500 lost when Congress dithered on extending the tax credit.

Branstad is an unabashed fan of state and federal tax credits. In the three months before the election, Branstad lavished the biggest tax credit incentives in state history for two fertilizer plants.

This week, he joined 28 other governors and Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack appealing to the president and Congress to extend the tax credit that created Iowa's wind energy boom.

The governor, above all, is a pragmatist who puts Iowa interests first.

The tax credit makes U.S. development and production of wind turbines sensible and profitable. Without it, Iowa would not be among the national leaders in wind energy use and production. Without it, the technology and infrastructure would be developed overseas, where higher fossil fuel prices make it more profitable.

Without it, we would face more pressure for dirtier energy options.

With it, Iowa can continue its nation-leading development and training for this expanding American industry, anchoring green energy innovation in the Heartland, not overseas.

The campaign season tricked many Americans into believing there were just two flavors of leadership in this country. Branstad and Grassley supported Mitt Romney, but not their candidate's vow to end the wind energy tax credits.

Branstad and Grassley's leadership on this important Iowa issue proves that their partisan world didn't end Nov. 6. Governance continues, as it must, with smart, informed leaders forming bipartisan coalitions to supporting their state and nation over party and progress over gridlock.


Telegraph Herald. Nov. 14, 2012.

Poll problems a state issue

"I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that."

-- Barack Obama, Nov. 7, 2012

More than 121 million Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election, and nearly all of their ballots were counted and reported within a couple of hours Tuesday (or early Wednesday morning). That's remarkable.

However, while those reports satiated Americans' proclivity for instant feedback, and might reflect well on the election process, the fact is that far too many of those 121 million Americans had far too many problems in casting their ballots.

There were equipment failures. There were long and confusing ballots. There were polling places that ran out of ballots. But, most of all, there were long lines. Extremely long lines.

Citizens in several states, including Wisconsin, found themselves standing in line at polling places for hours. Waits were ridiculously long in many locations in Florida, Virginia and Maryland. At several Florida locations, voters stood in line for six hours, just to exercise their privilege.

For something as important as its elected leadership (from the courthouse to the White House), Americans should be prepared to be patient. But how patient? One hour? Two hours? Six hours? It is a credit to those who would (and could) wait in line that long. And who can blame the citizens who approached their polling place, saw the amazingly long lines and left?

Curiously, all this happened despite early voting and despite the fact that fewer Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, when more than 128 million cast ballots. (By the way, few attribute the delays to requiring voters to show identification.)

As President Obama said in his victory speech early Wednesday, those problems need to be fixed.

Indeed. But whose problem is it to fix?

Americans — indeed, the entire world — are interested in who wins the U.S. presidency every four years. But as anyone old enough to remember Election 2000 knows well, the presidency is determined not by a single national referendum but on state-by-state decisions. Each state's election determines who will cast votes in the Electoral College, which officially elects the president.

Thus, the presidential election is a series of state elections. Who represents us in the U.S. Senate is decided in a state election. Our congressional representatives, governors, state senators, state representatives and various county and local officials? They are all elected at the state level or a subdivision of the state.

So, the president's comments notwithstanding, reforming the election process should be the responsibility of the states, not the federal government. But as officials embark on the effort, may we observe the ground rule that ideas and suggestions receive a fair hearing — without being shot down immediately amid charges of inviting fraud or suppressing the vote? A better system will need an opportunity to give various ideas reasoned consideration.

Americans who waited in line for hours just to exercise their right to vote deserve praise (and some sympathy). But now it's time for states to get to work so this doesn't happen again in 2016.

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