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Pomerantz: Education Is Not a Partisan Issue

Marvin Pomerantz The message from Marvin: Less bickering, more leadership.

Ever since Iowa was settled and the prairie broken to reveal the richest farmland in the world, this state has truly been a land of opportunity.

My family experienced this firsthand - beginning with my father, who immigrated to Iowa in 1912 and built a business from recycling materials others threw away, and continuing with my story of growing up in Des Moines and going into business.

Iowa has the greatest agricultural resources and the finest, hardest-working people in the world. For 150 years, these qualities have been enough to almost guarantee success for anyone willing to work hard.

Unfortunately, times have changed rapidly. These qualities are no longer enough.

If Iowa is to continue as a land of opportunity and the best place to raise a family, we must have a clear, simple vision easily understood and widely supported.

My vision is presented here as a "structure" - a building that can support a promising future for Iowa and all its citizens. The foundation of this structure must be our bedrock - education. It gives us life-sustaining knowledge. Knowledge drives our economy. It helps us live healthier, more rewarding lives. It makes us better citizens. It is the key to opportunity. Iowa's commemorative quarter, with the words "Foundation in Education," is very appropriate.

And we've known how important that is. Iowa has always had strong schools.

But now, we're losing ground. Rather than increasing our public investment in schools, we are decreasing it. We need to turn that around. In particular, we need to raise salaries so we can attract and keep the highest-quality teachers.

We need more people like Estelle King, my fourth-grade teacher at Greenwood Elementary School, who took me under her wing after my mother died and pointed me in the right direction.

We need more people like Merle Schlampp, former principal of Roosevelt High School, who pointed at me the minute I set foot in Roosevelt and said, "Pomerantz, my office in 10 minutes!" He sat me down and said sternly, "I don't want any trouble from you. I'm going to be watching." My reputation - and that of my brothers - preceded me. It was his way of telling me to stay on the "straight and narrow." He watched, but always in a caring, supportive way. He turned out to be the best friend and mentor I had in school.

High-quality teachers need to be well-trained and highly compensated. They must feel valued so they stay in teaching and continue to influence impressionable young minds. Good teachers are the heart of our schools.

We need the same high quality from higher-education institutions.

In an age when education beyond high school is essential for any kind of personal economic success, our community colleges, vocational schools, private colleges and state universities are critical resources that should be constantly strengthened, not weakened.

These institutions are invaluable resources for Iowa's economy. Community colleges support local and regional businesses and industries in ways no other institutions can, and our state universities with their extensive research enterprises, generate knowledge that can be turned into economic activity and opportunity. Having a research university is a major advantage. Iowa has two!

Rich soil has given Iowa an economic advantage. Future success will require more than just rich soil. And an educational system of the highest quality can be that additional advantage for the next 150 years and beyond.

The rest of the structure of Iowa's future follows naturally from the educational bedrock:

A strong, vibrant and diversified economy. Iowa must process more of its raw materials in-state rather than ship them out of state, where others reap the value-added economic rewards. We need to emphasize entrepreneurship in business education. Iowa also needs the best technology-transfer system to capitalize on the high-quality research at our state universities. Iowa needs a first-rate transportation system - highways, rail, and air - to support business and industrial development. We need to modernize our tax system and reduce our governmental structure - for example, 370 school districts are far too costly and far too many.

Adequate and accessible health-care coverage. Iowa must make it a priority to provide adequate health care to all who want it - privately paid for by those who can afford it and publicly supported for those who cannot, especially children. We're not that far away. About 200,000 people in Iowa lack health-care coverage. About 20 percent of uninsured have incomes of $50,000 a year and can afford care if they choose.

An environment that is preserved and protected. The land is the source of our wealth; clean air and water are essential to the quality of our lives. The land has been our primary economic advantage for the past 150 years, and with the rapid growth of the economy around the biological sciences, it will become even more of an advantage. We must preserve the land and maximize its productivity.

Recreation and cultural activities. We need events and activities that promote healthful individual development and family strength to serve Iowans and to attract visitors. The Loess Hills should be developed into an international attraction and destination. We can offer the best system of bike trails in the nation. We should be promoting Iowa as a paradise for pheasant and deer hunters.

We need to support and expand our community-based cultural programs, such as the opera, symphonies, theater and museums. Our colleges and universities provide exceptional cultural events year-round. We have top-level intercollegiate athletics, excellent professional sports teams and a growing number of community attractions. Iowa must keep investing in these attractions.

There is some general agreement on these building blocks. There is agreement that whatever kind of "house" we build should be open to all who share our values and want to help build something very special. Iowans have always been warm, welcoming people, and this quality will only strengthen our future.

The difficult part will come when we begin building the "structure." There will be differences over which materials to use, how big our house should be and how the rooms should be arranged.

Moving this vision forward requires that we have strong, bold, dynamic leadership, highly focused on our most important priorities. Our leaders must be able to agree on the vision and goals. They must understand there are different ways to reach those goals, and put aside partisanship to work together.

Partisanship is ruining state government. It is destroying our schools and hurting our children. Education is not a partisan issue. It is simply a matter of doing what is best for the people of Iowa, especially our children, which means providing the best education possible.

Our challenge is to build an educational system that surpasses all other states and serves as the bedrock for all growth. Once we do that, building the rest of the vision will be much easier because we will have our priorities in order and our tasks clearly defined.

Iowans have always been up to a good challenge.

The people we elect as our leaders must realize that their first responsibility is to work together, lead Iowa and meet this challenge.

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