I met Sen. Joe Biden in 1987 in Le Mars. It was a small gathering of a few people early in his 1988 presidential run.
As part of his stump speech, Biden used his now famous quote. “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
It was true in 1987, and it’s true 33 years later in an Iowa ravaged by a plague.
We’ve now seen Gov. Kim Reynolds’ budget for COVID-19 relief, and we now know what she values.
After the story was broken by Laura Belin on the Bleeding Heartland blog, Reynolds admitted to using $448,400 of COVID-19 relief money to pay 21 of her staff members. Now, she has attempted to spend an additional $21 million of the CARES Act dollars to upgrade computer software for the human resources department, but the expenditure has been flagged as inappropriate by State Auditor Rob Sand.
How should this money really be used?
Most experts agree that stopping the infection in schools will go a long distance to preventing community spread. Here are five ways the money should immediately be used to protect our children and our educators in public schools and limit the virus spread in every Iowa community.
• First, public schools can’t afford to provide rapid tests and results so students can remain in school. Students who have symptoms or have been exposed and need testing have to go to either the county health departments or to private physicians for testing and wait a minimum of two days for results if the lab is not backed up. That’s a minimum of two days lost every time testing is needed.
Public schools need on-site, rapid testing. If these tests are accurate enough for sports teams and the White House, they will work for our kids and our educators.
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• Second, teachers should not have to dig into their own pockets to protect their kids. Let’s care about kids by using CARES money.
• Third, in most classrooms, there is no way to social distance. The only real way to provide protection is with clear Plexiglas dividers. Outfitting every desk for a room of 30-plus is expensive, but it should and could be done.
• Fourth is the need for trained medical help on site. If Reynolds demands our kids be exposed to this virus for 180 days, schools need more school nurses. Currently, most buildings have a part-time nurse. School nurses are essential for identifying symptoms and quarantining students and staff rapidly. They are the first line of defense against the virus.
• Finally, if the governor insists on in-person instruction even when the test positivity rate is 50 percent or higher in Iowa, there need to be substitute teachers available to take over when a teacher goes down. Not having an available substitute means that already crowded classrooms become even more packed when classes are combined. This leads to more spread. The governor’s plan was to reduce the requirements for substitutes. It didn’t work.
It turns out few people are willing to risk their lives for $100 a day or less. School districts need funds so they can hire full-time substitutes with benefits and also raise the pay for day-to-day substitutes.
For decades, public schools in Iowa were a bipartisan treasure. Even the thriftiest conservative bragged about Iowa being number one in education. The only way to return to that greatness is to get this virus under control. That will take a governor willing to show what she values through her budget.
Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for 11 years and a Regional director for Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. He grew up in Shellsburg. BruceLear2419@gmail.com.