Democratic candidate for governor, John Norris, made a stop in Creston Saturday to lay out his vision and plan for the future of Iowa.
Among the issues discussed was education funding. While Iowa has the highest graduation rate in the country, Norris feels the quality of the education Iowa students receive is less than par, and will continue to decline as more cuts are made to Iowa’s education budget.
Norris said schools have been underfunded for years, making it unsustainable and more challenging to meet the needs and goals of students and educators.
“We are now generally regarded as somewhere between the 25th and 35th best state in public education,” Norris said. “We are 33rd in the country in teacher pay and will go down because of the low funding again this year and the stripping away of collective bargaining rights for our teachers. Minnesota is now advertising for our young teachers, recruiting them to come to Minnesota. Rural communities are going to be more hard pressed to attract the teachers we need at our rural schools.”
His concern is that Iowa government has accepted mediocrity in education, based on their decisions to underfund education and take away the collective bargaining rights of teachers.
Of equal concern for Norris is the increasing levels of poverty in Iowa. He said 31 percent of households in Iowa are on some form of public assistance and can’t meet their basic needs. People who make up the bottom 25 percent of the workforce, he added, receive less than 4 percent of the wages in Iowa.
Norris supports raising the minimum wage in Iowa to at least $15 an hour.
“We are still tied for the lowest minimum wage in the country at $7.25 an hour,” he said, “when the federal poverty level index says that just for a single person, you have to make $13.18 an hour to meet your basic economic necessities. That’s just for a single person.”
Throughout Iowa, companies are saying they have a difficult time finding people to fill positions and raising the wage they pay is the first thing Norris said he would suggest to them.
He said, another potential avenue employers can explore are students who won’t be going on to college after graduation. He cited a program in Colorado that teaches job skills to junior and senior high school students who do not plan on going to college so they are prepared to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate.
By starting a similar program in Iowa, Norris said, “We’re helping address our workforce needs for our businesses that are wanting to expand but can’t without workers, but we’re also breaking that cycle of poverty because those children that are not getting into the workforce are making life decisions that are making them less employable or unemployable.”
It all comes back to breaking the cycle of poverty, Norris said. With his bold, progressive ideas and policies, he wants to ensure that Iowa is well educated and well employed.