Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By

The Des Moines Register. June 8, 2014.

Regents are right to change funding

The Iowa Board of Regents made a historic change last week in the way it will dole out money to the three state universities. If the new funding formula works, it almost certainly will change the three schools over time, and for the better.

The regents' goal is to encourage the universities to enroll more students from Iowa, attract a more diverse student population and keep students on track to graduate on time. The universities will be rewarded financially for achieving those goals, or they will be penalized financially if they fail.

Since there is a limited amount of state aid to go around, which is not likely to grow substantially, the universities have a powerful incentive to work toward these goals.

The underlying goals of the Board of Regents' new funding formula are absolutely right in principle: The current process perversely discourages recruiting students from Iowa and rewards growth in enrollment regardless of whether the campuses are homogenous and regardless of whether students make meaningful progress toward a degree.

That is not good for Iowans who subsidize the universities. It is not good for the state, which benefits from an educated workforce. It is not good for students who leave school with too much debt regardless of whether they leave with a degree.

The new funding formula is the product of a yearlong study by a five-member task force led by former Board of Regents President David Miles. The regents have used the same method of allocating state aid to the universities for the past half century. That method was basically adding annual funding increases to the previous year's allocation. As a result, allocations to the three schools got out of balance over time.

Of the nearly $500 million in state aid this year, 46 percent went to the University of Iowa, 36 percent to Iowa State University and 18 percent to the University of Northern Iowa. Thus, UI received $50 million more than ISU, even though ISU has a larger overall enrollment and a larger enrollment of Iowa residents who pay less tuition. UNI is at a unique disadvantage because 90 percent of its students pay in-state tuition, which UNI must subsidize by taking money from other programs.

Some of the difference in the funding allocation is explained by costly graduate and professional programs at the University of Iowa, but not all of it. That's because graduate programs charge higher tuition. Still, the regents were rightly concerned about discouraging graduate enrollment and loading more student debt. Thus, they revised the task force recommendation to adjust the funding formula to account for the higher cost of graduate education.

It is a challenge to strike the right balance between in-state and out-of-state students, undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. How much weight should be put on opening doors to nontraditional students? Will the formula encourage universities to lower academic standards in the pursuit of state aid?

The formula approved could have an unintended consequence if it closes the door to students from beyond Iowa's borders. The state of Iowa and the three universities are enriched by the presence of undergraduate and graduate students who come here from other states and other parts of the world. That should be encouraged.

It would be impossible to create a perfect formula for fairly allocating money among three very different educational institutions. The new formula approved by the Board of Regents last week appears to strike the right balance, but it is not the last word on the subject. Nor should it be.

As the impact of the new formula is phased in over three years beginning in 2016, the board should regularly review the formula and make adjustments if necessary to make sure academic quality is maintained at all three institutions.

Whatever the flaws of this formula, it is better than the current process that does nothing to make any connection between the goals of the regents' institutions and the amount of money they receive from the state.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. June 8, 2014.

DeCoster case shows flaws in food safety system

Slapping a $6.8 million fine on the owners of the ironically named "Quality Egg" company sounds like a stiff penalty. But fines alone — even substantial ones — aren't enough to ensure the safety of the country's food supply.

Jack DeCoster, 79, and Peter DeCoster, 51, who own the Iowa egg production site charged with causing the massive salmonella outbreak in 2010, each pleaded guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The egg producer also pleaded guilty to bribing a federal Agriculture Department official, among other charges.

Tens of thousands of people were sickened in the outbreak, and 550 million eggs were recalled. The investigation later showed that Quality Eggs had been selling the tainted eggs for months and at least twice gave a USDA inspector a cash bribe to look the other way. When they finally got around to doing their own probe, Food and Drug Administration investigators found rodents, piles of manure and maggots, among other problems, at the DeCosters' Iowa farms.

This shouldn't have caught anyone by surprise.

Jack DeCoster was labeled a "habitual offender" by the state of Iowa a decade before the 2010 salmonella outbreak, after years of environmental violations. DeCoster farms were linked to deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness as early as the 1980s. A congressional investigation uncovered documentation of 426 positive results for salmonella at DeCoster facilities between 2008 and 2010.

Here's hoping the judge doesn't see the multimillion-dollar fine and take jail time for the DeCosters off the table. Few things would send a message about food safety violations more strongly than having CEOs sitting in jail.

The DeCoster case illuminates less-than-adequate oversight of our food supply chain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million Americans suffer food-borne illness every year at a cost that approaches $80 billion. In recent years, we've seen product recalls on spinach, eggs, peanut butter, lettuce and peppers, to name a few. That prompted the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle joined with consumer advocates and food industry leaders in supporting the legislation.

But the long overdue reforms in the law won't come to pass without appropriation. The Food and Drug Administration says it would take $300 million to fully and rapidly implement the law, while its appropriation is slated at $25 million. No doubt the expense is significant. But it could chip away at the $77 billion in health-related costs caused by food-borne illnesses, and the $75 billion toll that outbreaks take on farmers and the food industry.

For years, an Iowa egg producer was able to get away with tainting the food supply. The law has finally caught up to the DeCosters. Now it's time the federal government catch up with the holes in our food safety net.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. June 9, 2014.

VA scandal requires more forceful action

At Veterans Affairs medical centers throughout the country, lying, cheating bureaucrats are hoping the buck stops with former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. It should not.

Dozens of veterans died while on waiting lists for VA health care, even as agency officials including Shinseki were being assured wait times were minimal. Because some VA managers were so good at covering up their misdeeds, the actual toll may have been higher.

Shinseki stepped down from his post after apologizing for what happened on his watch. The Vietnam veteran and former Army chief of staff's record suggests he was sincere in his regret.

That is not so in the cases of VA officials who forced veterans to wait many months for critical health care, then falsified records to indicate delays never occurred. At the same time some of them were pleading they needed more money, the lies they fed to Congress seemed to indicate everything was fine at VA medical centers.

If history is any guide, Shinseki will be the sacrificial lamb who saves the real culprits from paying any meaningful price for their crimes. Most scandals in government end with a few retirements, some expressions of outrage by members of Congress and pledges by presidents of both parties to clean up the mess.

Then it is back to business as usual.

That simply will not do when our nation's veterans are the victims.

Members of Congress who were told years ago of lying about VA wait lists have some explaining to do. So does President Barack Obama, whose aides heard about the scandal before he took office.

Why was nothing done about it?

More important, why should veterans and their fellow Americans who mean it when we say the nation owes them a debt believe assurances the deadly scandal will be cleaned up — when we have heard nothing of plans to prosecute VA bureaucrats who committed fraud regarding wait lists?

Americans ought to be mad as hell about that.

If reports to date are true, some veterans went to their graves prematurely because of the abuses.

Then, those responsible should be going to unemployment lines and in some cases, prison cells.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. June 6, 2014.

Persistence pays for those seeking access to cannabis oil

On May 30, when Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law allowing a narrow use of cannabis oil for medicinal purposes, it was a testament to the importance of persistence.

Many of those persistent parents and children — many in wheelchairs — were in attendance at the Capitol rotunda during that law signing. They are those impacted by the effects of epilepsy and seizures, and they have fought long and hard to see this day.

"I am elated and so incredibly happy to see the governor put his name down on that piece of paper for this bill," said April Stumpf of Riverside, whose daughter of nearly two years suffers from epilepsy. "This is truly an amazing day."

The issue was left for dead early in the past legislative session, just as it had been in previous sessions. Then in April, both Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said lobbying efforts by parents of children with seizure disorders, often associated with epilepsy, kept the issue alive during the session.

Those lobbying efforts were combined with a couple of other factors. The efforts came shortly after a new poll, the results of which were released in March, showing an overwhelming majority of Iowans would approve of such a measure.

Also, that same month, medical experts had joined advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana in speaking with state leaders.

The combination of those factors revived the discussion. The governor had always opposed such measures, but he later indicated support for a medical marijuana bill that would be "very limited in focus."

As reported last week, Branstad said he approved of the measure after consulting with other governors in conservative states who have signed similar measures. He said the bill strikes an appropriate balance of oversight, regulation and empathy in providing narrowly targeted immunity in Iowa for the possession of cannabis oil as a treatment for chronic epilepsy.

For certain, this law is very limited. However, it is a pragmatic beginning in allowing access to relief-providing cannabis oil. In addition to epileptic seizures, the drug also shows encouraging signs of containing chronic pain and nausea in some patients.

This group, many of them parents of special needs children, never gave up in their efforts to gain this access. We appreciate our legislators and governor listening to them — and hope they will continue looking at this option for others in the future.

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