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IowaWatch joins Investigate Midwest! Meet our new newsroom!

As part of an effort to better cover crucial issues in the agricultural industry, Investigate Midwest has acquired IowaWatch and its talented team, bringing together a combined 25 years of public service journalism to Iowa and the Midwest. IowaWatch (The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism) will cease operations as a nonprofit and evolve into an expanded Iowa-based newsroom within Investigate Midwest (The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting) under an agreement approved this month by the boards of directors of both nonprofit organizations. Under the umbrella of Investigate Midwest, the Iowa team will focus its coverage on agriculture and rural issues. “As colleagues for many years, IowaWatch and Investigate Midwest have naturally gravitated toward the common goal of deeply covering rural communities and Midwest issues that often go unseen and unreported,” said Pam Dempsey, executive director for Investigate Midwest. The newsroom will do more investigative stories for Iowans and allow Investigate Midwest — whose mission is to expose the dangerous and costly practices of influential agricultural corporations and institutions — to expand its coverage in a state that’s a global leader in agriculture.

State funding for nonpublic Iowa schools

Nonpublic school program and its estimated amount for FY 2022

State and Federal School Lunch aid to nonpublic schools: $13,529,983

Nonpublic School Transportation: $8,997,091

Nonpublic School Text Books: $852,000

Share-time Students *: $1,314,591

Special Education Support from AEAs *: $57,475

Media and Education Services from AEAs **: $4,027,695

Estimated School Tuition Organization (STO) Tax Credit: $20,000,000

Estimated Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit: $25,001,527

Home School Assistance Program ***: $15,509,007

Accredited Nonpublic School Concurrent Enrollment: $1,000,000

529 Education Plan Expanded to K-12 Nonpublic Expenses: $14,300,000

TOTAL: $104,589,369

*Funded through the school aid formula and consists of State aid and local property taxes. AEA Special Education Support Services does not account for reduction in funding through statute. **AEA Media and Ed. Services are funded with local property taxes through the school aid formula. This total does not account for reduction in funding through statute.

List of Iowa districts with 500 or fewer students

Of Iowa’s 327 public school districts, 104 districts have an enrollment of 500 or fewer students, according to the Iowa Department of Education’s latest numbers, released in December. RELATED STORY: Iowa rural educators say ‘student first’ proposal undermines them

1. Adair-Casey Community School District: 252.6

2. Albert City-Truesdale Community School District: 92.0

3. Alden Community School District: 143.0

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Iowan’s struggle with long COVID enters third year

Darcy Havel-Sturdevant thought she’d be working by now, two years after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Likewise, she thought she would have been there completely for her daughter, age 3 when Havel-Sturdevant was first diagnosed but now 5. “Throughout the last two years, she’s been really great with helping me if I need help,” Havel-Sturdevant, 35, of Iowa City said about her daughter, Rayne. “If I get really sad or frustrated she’ll start singing ‘Rockabye Baby’ to me and ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ So that shows like the level of empathy and compassion that children have, you know, at that young age, especially, at least in my case, during the pandemic.”

Havel-Sturdevant said she tried to be optimistic that COVID-19 will end for her but more likely must accept what she called a new baseline for normal living. IowaWatch has been following Havel-Sturdevant’s bout with COVID-19 this past year because of her extraordinary problems with the infection.

School teaches taxpayers an expensive lesson

Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart has been a lightning rod during the past three years over the way Iowa’s public schools have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.Ahart announced last week that he is leaving, effective June 30. But the Des Moines school board ensured that Ahart will continue to carry that lightning rod for a little longer.His contract runs for another year, until June 30, 2023. So, you might think he is forgoing his $306,193 salary, his $7,200 annual allowance for a car and cell phone, and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity.But you would be wrong, wrong and wrong.Even though he will not be employed by the Des Moines schools after June 30, Ahart will still be paid every nickel, every dime and every dollar that he would have received had he chosen to work those 12 months left on his contract.This means Ahart will be paid as much to relax fulltime as he would have been paid to work fulltime.The lucrative “severance agreement” was approved by the Des Moines school board during a special board meeting two days after he announced his resignation. The meeting lasted two minutes. Yes, two minutes — and it included time to call the roll, approve the agenda and vote on the agreement.No one asked any questions.

Generations of local leaders propel Bancroft, population 699

BANCROFT – The city of Bancroft, called “the garden spot of Iowa” for almost 90 years, may not be growing in population. But like a good perennial plant with solid roots, it is regenerating and flowering. Located in northern Kossuth County in north-central Iowa about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, Bancroft has a population of 699 residents, according to 2020 Census data, down from 732 in 2010. It’s who makes up that 699 number that matters. Bancroft has an eclectic mix of new, longtime and returning residents.

Iowa’s shrinking towns could be state, regional mentors

Some Iowa towns may be shrinking in population, but they may have an impact on other communities in Iowa and beyond. Officials with the Iowa League of Cities and researchers with Iowa State University say a handful – dwindling but proactively maintaining and improving their quality of life – are raising eyebrows and may be pathfinders for other communities to follow. Colleagues have already reached some to find out what those towns are doing right, said Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, an advocacy and training group for 850 Iowa member cities. Alan Kemp is the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities. “It was sort of interesting to look at this idea of shrinking smart,” Kemp said.

Elma, population 505, meets town needs through bridge building, $1.4 million project

ELMA – This town is all about building bridges – even though you normally won’t find an expanse of water much wider than Mead Creek on the northwest edge of town. There’s one covered bridge, an old rail head viaduct over Main Street that is now part of a recreational trail. That has now become a community symbol, a motif of what this Howard County community of a little more than 500 is trying to accomplish. In fact, the name of the town’s nonprofit community betterment organization is The Bridge Inc. It’s a coalition of people that have put together a community complex project now underway in a closed elementary school building. Elma is one of a handful of Iowa communities involved in Shrink Smart, an Iowa State University research project begun in 2017 that examines how towns with decreasing populations keep their quality of life.