April 22, 2024

Opinion: Keeping young people in Iowa

By Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst

With two kids now in their early 20s, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if my kids will end up living in Iowa as they wrap up their education and start their careers. My husband and I spent a year away before returning to Iowa to build our lives, so I know it’s a rite of passage to try somewhere new. I have no doubt they will make up their own minds, but I do hope Iowa is a finalist for a place they want to call home.

Of course, there are so many different factors young folks consider when deciding where to put down roots as an adult - economic and personal. Can I land a good-paying job and pay my bills? Do I have family close by? Are there cultural and recreational opportunities available to enjoy my free time? Would I feel safe and supported in the community I chose to live in?

As state lawmakers, there isn’t one magic bill we can pass that will convince young folks to live in Iowa, but our job should be to make sure Iowa is as attractive as possible to them.

First, we’ve got to lower costs.

For too many Iowa students and families, the rising cost of college has forced them to take on more debt before they even start their career. Some leave Iowa for higher wages to pay those loans back. For the 433,300 Iowans working today that still have student loan debt, the financial burden too often makes it tough to buy a home or start a family.

We introduced a bill this week to lower tuition costs and give families more certainty when planning for college. House File 2352 would guarantee that every first-year undergraduate from Iowa attending ISU, UNI, or Iowa would have the same tuition and fees for all four years. The Legislature would make an appropriation each year to ensure quality and budget stability for our state universities and make sure the cost isn’t pushed on to the next freshman class. The bill would save an Iowa student about $2,500 in tuition and fees as they complete a four-year college degree.

There are several bills we’ve already introduced as part of our lowering costs package that would also ease the financial burden for students, including an expanded sales tax-free holiday to get school supplies or clothes, raising wages, and making housing more affordable. All of these bills would also help Iowans in apprenticeship programs or community colleges.

Second, it’s time to drop all the political games making Iowa unwelcoming. Lawmakers at the State Capitol are working on bills that came from the special interests or national groups that use division as means to gain more power or wealth.

For example, we hit a record 40+ bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community filed in the Iowa Legislature this week. Nearly all are copycat bills easily found in another state or written by some special interest group. The unmistakable message those bills send to folks is that Iowa isn’t welcoming to everyone. It drives young people out of this state and it makes it even more difficult to recruit young people from outside of Iowa to come here to help fill our worker shortage. It’s not speculation, either. Recruiters tell me it’s a barrier to bringing young people to the state.

We’re all frustrated with politics these days, but it’s especially true among our young people.

Iowans in their early 20s have grown up at a time when the political divide in our country and state has grown worse every year. It’s left them even more frustrated and apathetic than ever because they can’t recall a time when political dysfunction and culture wars didn’t drive all the work we are supposed to do. I don’t blame them.

We’ve got to do better. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t keep every kid in Iowa, but there’s still time this session to get started.

Lower costs. Scrap the partisanship. Make Iowa more welcoming.

It’s people over politics.

State Representative Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights serves the 32nd District in the Iowa House and is the Iowa House Democratic Leader