For the first time since taking the state’s highest office last May, Governor Kim Reynolds has issued an executive order.
Executive Order No. 1 establishes the Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning, an attempt to connect Iowa schools and students with real-world business opportunities, experience and networking. By incorporating internships, job shadows and professional speakers in K-12 curriculums, the governor hopes to illustrate a necessity for students to acquire practical trade skills and experience while still in school.
The governor’s budget, which has not been passed at time of publication, includes $250,000 for the Clearinghouse. This move is an extension of the Future Ready Iowa education initiative the Reynolds Administration rolled out last October. Future Ready’s goal is for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have completed some form of post-secondary education by 2025.
By targeting rural communities, typically with fewer work opportunities, the program would urge students to think about the endgame, about getting jobs after education, “by creating a virtual space to connect employers and educators.”
Iowa has experienced a “brain drain” over the past several years as increasing numbers of educated workers leave the state. Iowa’s projected growth in skilled occupations lags behind the national average. Reynolds hopes to reverse that.
“When we can help our young people see the great job opportunities that exist within their communities, they’re not so quick to look outside of the state,” Reynolds said during Monday’s press conference.
The Executive Order comes amid debate over the state’s yearly budget. The House Republicans proposed a bill last week that includes $52 million in cuts with a $19 million deappropriation of Iowa’s public universities, withholding funds that the schools had expected to receive. A bill proposed in the Senate would take away another $5.4 million from community colleges.
Reynolds proposed her own budget earlier this month with cuts totaling $19 million, far less than what her GOP counterparts are seeking.
Rep. Art Staed, a Democrat on the House Education Committee, supports the program, provided the colleges and businesses would still be able to afford the proposed activities. He also applauded the Iowa Business Council’s campaign to increase its number of work-based learning opportunities from 2,100 to 30,000, an announcement that Reynolds proudly supported.
But with the potential cuts, Staed fears that the governor’s creation of the Clearinghouse was “insincere,” an attempt to simply rebrand and “take credit” for programs already in place at publicly funded colleges.
“If Reynolds had the funding with it for colleges and universities, that would be awesome,” Staed said. “I’m really excited for this, so long as it includes adequate funding.”
Rep. Sharon Steckman, the Democrats’ ranking member on the House Education Committee, called the executive order a “public relations thing.”
Steckman believes that the focus of this legislative session should be balancing the budget, but disagrees with the proposed methods. She’d rather increase the state’s revenue via reducing tax breaks instead of cutting expenditures, especially not in education.
“We should be making sure that our systems in play have what they need,” Steckman said.
The Clearinghouse is planned to launch in July 2019. Fareway Grocery signed on as the first business partner of the program.
by Adam Rogan