A bold offer

It all began with a short description of Storm Lake’s next generation: About 75% are children of color, of immigrants, whose families only dream of them realizing the American Dream. Going to college. Owning a home. Doing better than your parents and grandparents did. Remembering where you came from and giving back. Too many of our youth do not know how far they can reach in America if we only let them.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason responded quickly and without reservation:

“It looks to me like we’re missing an opportunity, and we’re going to fix that. … We hear what your challenges are.”

The Hawkeye in Chief said she will personally dispatch an enrollment team to Storm Lake to meet with young people of ambition and sort through what their options might be: community college, state university, private university or military service.

Mason said there will be no bar to enrolling at the U of I but for the ties that bind sincere students to their families in Storm Lake. Needy students will get what they need to succeed, she promised.

She was the first of her family, Slovak stock displaced by World War I, to attend college. Her immigrant father made it through eighth grade. Mason said she holds a special place for first-generation collegians.

We found her to be sincere and resolute.

Mason is reaching out her hand to those looking for a hand up. It becomes our challenge to respond.

Lots of immigrant children are sampling the fares at Iowa Central Community College, either while in high school or after graduation. Buena Vista University is actively recruiting local students of color, realizing that it has an edge with close family ties typical of first-generation newcomers. But BVU might not work for all students. State universities play an important role, as well. They are, after all, the people’s colleges.

Storm Lake and Buena Vista County need trained welders and machinists, nurses and HVAC specialists. But it also needs finance majors and CPAs, lawyers and doctors, pharmacists and teachers. We need state university graduates who want to come home and build a future. Immigrant college grads are the most likely candidates.

Mason has opened a door by pledging the full resources of the university to help Storm Lake students of need get a degree from a great academic institution. Let’s make certain those students are lined up when the team comes calling.

Never enough

The federal government was about to shut down when this was written. Buried in the news Monday was that the farm bill was set to expire that night, Sept. 30. Reports — confusing as the norm — coming out of Washington were that Congress would punt the farm bill to October. It is most likely that the current farm bill, already extended a year by a dysfunctional House, will be extended for another year or two or whenever Congress can get its act together.

That’s about all the clarity we could divine.

The farm bill speaks to the nature of government in Washington.

The right demands reduced spending. The Senate and White House agree, but the House wants 10 times as much in the next negotiation. That is precisely what happened with the farm bill. The Senate passed a bill with big cuts in conservation and nutrition titles. The House wanted cuts 10 times as large.

We have record amounts of soil rushing into the Raccoon River. The shelves at Upper Des Moines Food Pantry often go bare, prompting emergency pleas. But the right-wing ideologues refuse to relent. They would rather not pass a farm bill than compromise with a broadly bipartisan Senate approach.

Extending the current farm bill is the backwards way to go. Think about how crop science and renewable energy have evolved in five years. Think about how much markets have changed in five years. And, five years ago the federal budget deficit built by two foreign wars was growing. The deficit has been shrinking the past two years.

The Senate and White House had offered to continue the budget sequestration program as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown or a crisis over the debt ceiling. That suggests another 12% reduction in federal spending this year on top of the 5% already cut. The Senate and White House have been negotiating away the social safety net for the past four years. And it’s never enough for the House.

The farm bill is a perfect example. Heaven help us if they can’t get it figured out.