Childcare as afterthought

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Congratulations to Ready, Set, Grow! organizers for responding to an urgent community need for high-quality childcare services. The volunteers have been successful at organizing a thriving center in the old Alta High School, thanks to the Alta-Aurelia School District. Methodist Manor will welcome 75-100 children this spring for a Storm Lake location. They have our gratitude.

And, they have the gratitude of the community. Ready, Set, Grow! has received $45,000 in contributions of public funds from city and county, plus school in-kind assistance. The city of Storm Lake is subsidizing childcare, and so is Buena Vista County. We also subsidize food pantries and other social services. They are necessary to keep these efforts afloat.

It’s a frustrating comment that the Ready, Set, Grow! had to be organized in the first place. Services are drying up because providers can’t charge enough to keep help, much like caring for our elderly while nursing homes close for lack of funding. Witness Gingerbread House, which couldn’t survive even with government subsidy, and North Lake Manor. Caring for our elderly and our children is an after-thought to our economic system.

Local government appropriations to community-service agencies are a zero-sum game. Give to childcare and take away from food pantries or economic development. That’s how it works. All these things are needed, and budgets are capped by slow-growing sales tax revenues.

State and federal politicians have talked and talked for decades about early childhood education and childcare services. Yet federal funding for after-school programs in Storm Lake has been eliminated. State child-care assistance is insignificant. Preschool programs are challenged by stagnant appropriations to public education.

You could argue that the government should not have to provide for basic family care. You would be right, in the abstract. The fact is that rural Iowa’s wage scale simply doesn’t support sustainable community childcare centers. That’s the real problem. We wish that major employers, whose workers are the ones most in need of family assistance, would unburden the residential homeowner for childcare. Methodist Manor is doing its part. But if most employers don’t pay what it takes to buy quality childcare, then the government should provide a more comprehensive program than forcing the city council to take money away from other worthwhile efforts starved for funding themselves.

When will our society recognize that June Cleaver is in the workforce today and not baking cookies in heels and pearls for the Beaver? Once we do, we should figure out a sensible and sustainable way to keep track of what he and Lumpy are up to.

Politics in courts

Gov. Kim Reynolds has given her blessing to an ill-considered bill that answers no problem, overturns Iowa tradition of more than 50 years, and invites political influence over the state judicial system. The bill would strip lawyers of directly nominating members to judicial nominating commissions and transfer that power to the legislature. It suggests that State Sen. Mark Segebart of Vail might have more influence over who sits on a judicial nominating commission than the members of the Buena Vista County Bar Association. For the first time since 1962, when voters amended the Iowa Constitution to end political appointment of judges, politics again would spread over the process.

Iowa’s judicial nomination process has been the model for the nation. Starting down this slope, we could end up with direct election of judges and Texas-style justice: corrupt, inefficient and unfair. That’s why we amended the constitution, to avoid the taint of politics in our courts. The system provides a check for the people in retention votes for district court and supreme court judges — three high court justices were evicted from their jobs by voters in 2010 for ruling that gays could not be discriminated against as a class. It was a dark day for justice, but it was democracy.

That’s what should scare us, when political parties try to stack the courts with ideologues. Lawyers nominating judges works. There are no widespread complaints of bias or incompetence. Lawyers understand which of their peers make the best judges. Let lawyers nominate half the nominating commission as they do now — they swear an oath just like a judge or politician to uphold and defend the Iowa Constitution. They are officers of the court best suited to vetting judges. Half the commission are lay people who can leaven the process with common wisdom. That’s how it should be, and it’s how things should stay. Republicans want more conservative judges. Democrats want more liberal judges. Iowans want impartial judges. We voted for it in 1962 and nobody has asked us since because there was no need.