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Iowa governor requests full-time classroom learning option during speech

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KTIV) - From COVID-19 and civil unrest, to a drought and a derecho, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds says the state, and its people, have persevered. "We've been beaten and battered in about every way imaginable and some unimaginable," said Gov. Kim Reynolds, (R) Iowa. "But together, we've met every challenge with bravery and outright grit."

Still, in her Condition of the State speech, Tuesday night, Reynolds said, in a post-pandemic world, there will be new challenges to meet.

Reynolds's speech, which started at six o'clock Monday night, broke with the tradition of the governor delivering the annual address at 10 o'clock on the morning of the legislative session's second day. Reynolds said she wanted all Iowans to have the chance to hear the speech, and not just lawmakers in the House Chamber.

"We cannot sufficiently express our gratitude, but we will try," said Reynolds. Reynolds started her speech by thanking Iowans-- doctors, nurses, EMT's, and the like-- on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight. But, she acknowledged the pandemic's toll with a moment of silence. "Bow your head, and remember all of those we lost this year and the loved ones they leave behind," said Reynolds.

As the pandemic forced Iowans online, the governor said it showed that some Iowans still don't have access to high-speed broadband. "Let's plant a stake in the ground and declare that every part of Iowa will have affordable, high-speed broadband by 2025." Reynolds committed $450-million over the next five years to make it happen.

In light of pandemic-driven shortages of child care facilities, the governor committed state money to a fund that encourages employers and community leaders to develop those facilities. "So I'm allocating $3 million to jump-start these public-private partnerships," said Reynolds. "I'm also using $25 million of child care development block grants to further promote child care startups.

Reynolds also called on lawmakers to pass a bill giving parents the choice to send their kids back to school full-time, rather than having to learn "virtually" during the pandemic. "We can't wait any longer," said Reynolds. "Our kids can't wait any longer." But, the governor says it isn't just about in-person versus virtual. "If there's one thing the pandemic has taught us about education, it's that our parents need choice," said Reynolds. She's asking all school districts to allow open enrollment. She also wanted to create public charter schools, and create education savings accounts for students, she says, are trapped in a failing school. "Let's give them another choice by making sure money isn't their barrier," Reynolds said.

Still, Reynolds says it's imperative Iowa have a strong public school system. Her proposed budget includes another 27-million dollars for Iowa's public schools in fiscal year 2022. That's a 3.7-percent increase over the 2021 fiscal year budget.

It also includes $1-million to encourage hospitals and clinics to start a "Center of Excellence… to align rural doctors with specialists providing skilled care closer to where patients and providers live. Also, the governor is encouraging lawmakers to pass a bill to improve rural EMS services. And, Reynolds wants $15-million dollars this year, and $15-million next year, to fully-fund reforms to the state's mental health system.

Democrats seized on the governor's request for a bill to allow parents the choice to send their child back to school full-time.

Democrats criticized the governor for wanting to reopen schools without guaranteeing public health resources, and guidance to keep our students and teachers safe. "It's really a dangerous move," said Rep. Todd Prichard, (D) House Minority Leader. "We have 350 approximately school districts across the state. All have had different challenges based on different factors that are unique to that school district… whether they're urban or rural… in dealing with the pandemic. So, this one-size-fits-all approach it simply isn't safe. We would love to have 100-percent, in-person learning. We know that that's the preferred method. But, we need to make sure that it's done safely."

Many of the Democrats serving in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate watched the governor's speech online, and not in the House Chamber. Democrats say the move was a reflection of public health guidance in Polk County, and not a political statement.

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Matt Breen

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