Governor’s economic recovery advisers recommend preschool, broadband as legislative priorities

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet, but a group of Iowa business leaders are planning ahead with post-pandemic economic recovery recommendations that include expanding state-funded preschool and preventing foreclosures.

Gov. Kim Reynolds formed the Governor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board in June to recommend post-pandemic policy. The board consists of 15 of Iowa’s most influential CEOs and business owners, including representatives from Hy-Vee, John Deere and Principal Financial Group. At Reynolds’ Thursday press conference, the advisory board debuted its 126-page report with 18 specific policy recommendations.

“They’ve tackled some of the most challenging issues of our time, brought a new perspective to issues that we’ve been working on, and they worked diligently to seek public input to ensure Iowans had a voice in the process,” Reynolds said. “It was an ambitious task, but one that helped really set the foundation for my legislative agenda this year.”

Several suggestions advanced by the board match with already-proposed bills by Reynolds or state lawmakers. Reynolds in January proposed a $450 million investment in rural broadband systems to create widespread, accessible broadband by 2025, the same goal set by the board. Legislators are set to consider several child care bills this session, and a controversial bill on school choice and charter schools, for which the board advocates, has already passed in the Senate.

Top recommendations for Iowa’s economic recovery 

  • Child care: Expand state-funded preschool programs, more programming for children with special needs
  • Broadband: Increase spending up to $100 million per year, provide universal broadband access by 2025, make broadband faster and affordable
  • Housing: Expand and create new housing tax credit programs, fund programs that prevent eviction and foreclosure
  • Health: Improve rural emergency response, attract more health care workers, expand telehealth services
  • Education: Provide more work-based learning and more school choices, including the expansion of charter school options
  • Manufacturing: Support switch to digital technologies, fund biosciences research
  • Government efficiency: Encourage state agencies and local governments to reduce waste

The advisory board worked with over 350 volunteers to form working groups on the issues of agriculture, connectivity, economic growth, education, government, public health and expanding the workforce. Leaders of the task force who spoke at Thursday’s press conference highlighted the issues of child care and broadband both sectors which found renewed interest and importance during COVID-19 disruptions.

Ben McLean, CEO of Ruan Transportation Management Systems, said accessible broadband was “foundational” to many of the group’s other recommendations. The group recommended building a statewide broadband network by 2025.

“The pandemic underscored for all of us that reliable accessible high speed broadband is not just a luxury,” he said. “This is critical infrastructure.”

Early childhood education was also a priority, both to support working families and to prepare kids for kindergarten. The board recommends Iowa aim for 90% of 4-year-old children to attend preschool in 2024. This year, just 62% of Iowa’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded preschool program, according to the board’s report.

“Our education working group recommended continuing universal state preschool programming, while also providing more targeted programming for children who lack opportunities at home and need more support,” McLean said.

Another basic need emphasized by the board: ample housing for workers across the state to call home. They recommended expanding the Workforce Housing Tax Credits, encouraging public-private partnerships and creating new programs to assist low-income homeowners. The board also encouraged the conversion of unused buildings to housing.

Reynolds has proposed a package of housing incentives that senators began discussing Thursday.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, including the monumental effort to vaccinate Iowans, but with each step we’re moving beyond the pandemic and blazing a bold trail to brighter days ahead,” Reynolds said.

Katie Akin
Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.