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Ending the year on a high note

As 2013 comes to an end, we cap off a year that has pointed Iowa in the right direction on many fronts. We ensured more Iowans have access to good jobs, great communities, strong local schools, and affordable health care — all while balancing the state budget without raising taxes.

As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I worked hard with the governor and the Republicans to produce the second major education reform bill in two years. This bill will provide significant opportunities and support for our dedicated teachers to become the best that they can be. This year, we also provided financial support for the program we established last year to help the youngest students, who are slipping behind grade-level reading goals, catch up.

These fiscally- responsible investments in Iowa are paying off. Last week, the state’s nonpartisan Revenue Estimating Conference confirmed that Iowa’s economy is steadily growing. Our bipartisan effort to expand access to affordable health care—the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan—received a green light. And, Iowa children are showing improvements in health, education and wellbeing, according to a new report from Kids Count.

This week, the nation’s leading wind power utility announced a major expansion in Iowa. MidAmerican Energy is buying hundreds of Iowa-built wind turbines from Siemens Energy, to be installed on wind farms throughout the state. This clean, locally produced energy reduces our dependence on foreign oil, while creating good jobs and economic opportunities in our communities.

While 2013 is ending with lots of good news, there is more we can do to grow and strengthen Iowa’s middle class. Thousands of Iowans are still struggling to work their way out of the national recession. The number of Iowans in need of food has increased dramatically in recent years, and our state’s childhood poverty rate is climbing faster than the national average.

As we look to 2014, I’ll make sure we use Iowa’s resources wisely to build on our successes. You can expect to see another balanced state budget that invests in education, worker training and job creation.

Here are some specific goals I’m working on for 2014:

·Freeze in-state under-graduate tuition at ISU for the second straight year.

·Raise the minimum wage. The last increase was seven years ago.

·Continue to invest in job training so Iowa workers can qualify for the high-skills jobs of the future.

· Support efforts to attract and grow businesses at the highly successful ISU Research Park and elsewhere throughout the area.

· Eliminate waiting lists for our four-year-old pre-kindergarten program, so that all four-year-olds can benefit.

· Increase outreach to involve more low-income families in the pre-kindergarten program.

· Focus additional efforts on early-grade reading.

· Strengthen laws against human trafficking and forced prostitution.

If you have ideas that can help expand Iowa’s middle class, please e-mail me. The 2014 session is just a few weeks away, and I want to know what you think.

This is a legislative column by Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), who represents Ames and surrounding areas. For newsletters, photos, and further information, go to www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/quirmbach.

To contact Senator Quirmbach, call him at home at 515-292-8984 or e-mail him at hcqbach@gmail.com.

Senator Quirmbach is the chair of the Senate Education Committee. He also serves on the Human Resources, Judiciary, Local Government, and Ways & Means Committees and on the Education Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition, he represents the Senate on the College Student Aid Commission and the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Commission.

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