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John Pemble/IPR

At the statehouse this week, Democrats and Republicans will try to reach accord on K-12 school funding for the school year that starts in the fall.  

The legislature is already late in approving the aid, which by law should have been passed in the last legislation session.

Once again this year, Democrats seek a larger increase for schools than Republicans.      

Democratic Senator Majority Leader Mike Gronstal recalls last year the two parties fought for weeks on a bipartisan compromise, only to have it vetoed by the governor.

Steve Jurvetson

February brings more than just Valentine’s Day this year, with a medley of arts events across the state. This month’s edition features:

•                    Charles Swanson, Executive Director of Hancher, filling us in on the upcoming Bobby McFerrin concert and their plans to move into their new performing arts center.          

•                    Tim Schiffer, Executive Director of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, providing the inside scoop on several exhibits coming to the museum this month.

John Pemble

Days before the Iowa caucuses, political opposites, conservative Christian activist Bob Vander Plaats, of The Family Leader, and LGBT advocate Donna Red Wing, of One Iowa, share their views on the 2016 presidential race.

Red Wing says there is a lot at stake in this election, citing her concern that the next president could nominate up to four justices to the Supreme Court.

Lindsey Moon and Kyle Hammann

Not everyone is a book learner. That's the idea behind a comic strip Iowa City based artist Kyle Hammann and Iowa Public Radio producer Lindsey Moon put together that explains how the Iowa caucuses work. 

"Comics are fun, and this has introduced me to a lot of information about the caucuses," Hammann says. "People learn differently, it's cool to think that a lot of people could see this and get something from it."

During this River to River interview, Hammann and Moon talk with host Ben Kieffer.

jesuscm / Flickr

Many people have stories about a long-lost family member or a family member who doesn’t hang around a whole lot. It’s not talked about much, but according to a study from Iowa State University, family estrangement is a lot more common that previously thought.

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with a listener who hasn’t spoken to her brother in nearly a decade.

John Pemble

Just three days before the national spotlight reaches full intensity, Iowa’s Democratic and Republican Party chairs sit down with River to River host Ben Kieffer to discuss the unique process of each party’s caucus, their turnout expectations, and their take on the surprise populist candidates on each side.

Jeff Kaufmann, Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, says he expects turnout to exceed that of 2012, when around 120,000 Iowans voted in the Republican caucuses.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The first diplomatic consulate in Iowa is officially open. The office in Des Moines seals a long-standing friendship between the state and the Republic of Kosovo.

Band members from the Iowa National Guard and the Kosovo Security Force joined to play the national anthems of Kosovo and the U.S.

The deputy prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci says his country decided to open its second U.S. consulate in Des Moines because of what Iowa did for his nation after the war in the Balkans.

John Pemble / IPR

This year's campaign for president has defied conventional wisdom. While analysts originally looked at fundraising and previous political experience, they overlooked one thing -- the state of mind of the electorate.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

Many Iowa Republicans are still considering which candidate they'll caucus for on Monday. A Quinnipiac poll of likely GOP caucus participants from earlier this week has 39 percent saying they may change their minds.

Some of the undecided gathered in front of two large projectors on the second floor of the downtown Des Moines Marriott last night to watch the last GOP debate before the caucuses. Moderated by Fox News, the debate was held a half-mile away at the Iowa Events Center. 

Stephen Chin/flickr

Another gun rights bill got its first airing at the statehouse today, with majority Republicans on a three-member panel signing on, and the lone Democrat objecting.  

The bill would allow loaded firearms on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on both public and private property.     Currently, a gun must be unloaded and in a case.  

Richard Rogers with the Iowa Firearms Coalition says there are two problems with the current law.

Photo Courtesy of WiSE, Iowa State University

The Women in Science and Engineering program at Iowa State University was founded 30 years ago in an effort to funnel more young women toward careers in the sciences. Despite programs and efforts, there are still not enough girls getting excited about STEM.

Reshma Saujani is founder of Girls Who Code and says that’s not because these programs don’t work or because they aren’t well intentioned.

Photo by Amy Mayer

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don't have a first-hand connection to the farm.

That makes it difficult to get candidates talking about food system issues from school lunches, to crop supports, to water quality. Yet these all fall under the federal agriculture department. If candidates aren't talking about them in Iowa, it's possible they'll be left out of the campaigns entirely.

FLICKR / WILLIAM PATRICK BUTLER

As Iowa gears up for transitioning its Medicaid system into private management by three for-profit companies, lawmakers are grappling with how many ombudsmen are needed to give recipients assistance and objective information.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A growing number of schools across the country are providing more services to make life easier for students who have fallen behind in their coursework. Things like food banks and day-care centers. An alternative high school in Des Moines has become the first in the state to install an on-site dental clinic.

Dental assistant Jenny Hen has just ordered high school junior Dustin Elliott to open wide as she begins a thorough cleaning of his teeth.

Clay Masters/IPR

With less than a week until the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates are descending on Iowa.

A trend has emerged among the Republican candidates.

A volunteer for the Donald Trump campaign is walking along a line of rally attendees at the West Gym on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa earlier this month. HE’s trying to get people to sign up to vote.

“Does anybody need to register or re-register to be a Republican?!” he asks.

Ty Smedes

Iowa is a beautiful state, but if you need someone to convince you of that, photographer Ty Smedes is the guy for the job.  His latest collection of Iowa nature photos is now out and they are moving and stunning.

The many wonderful photos of Iowa critters is collected in Smedes' new book, "Iowa's Wild Beauty" (Iowan Books).  Ty says he went to every corner of the state, from prairies to streams to forested wilderness areas, to take his pictures of rare plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and colorful butterflies. 

Elaine Aronson

On this Talk of Iowa segment, Charity Nebbe talks with Cydney Kelley, a screenwriter in Los Angeles who writes for the new sitcom, Zoe Ever After.

The show debuted on January 6th and stars actress and singer Brandy Norwood as a newly single mom and business woman in New York City.

Kelley grew up a long way from New York City and Hollywood, in Cedar Falls. In this interview, she talks about how she made her way from the Midwest to the City of Angels, and she paints a picture of what it's like to write for television.

Staff Sergeant Chad D. Nelson, Iowa National Guard

Hundreds of positions in the Iowa National Guard have opened to women for the first time in the Guard’s history, and women have already begun to enlist in combat roles.   

That’s according to Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, Major General Timothy Orr, who delivered his annual Condition of the Guard address to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate.

Orr says last month’s announcement from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opening up combat roles to women is having an effect in Iowa.

This Friday, January 29 at 2 pm in the Java House in downtown Iowa City, IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" will host its first live performance of the season with Milwaukee singer-songwriter Jay Matthes. 

Join host Ben Kieffer as he chats with the soulful country artist about his new single, "The Light," and his 18 stop tour. 

Dean Borg/IPR

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s half-hour rally in the University of Iowa Field House Tuesday night was frequently interrupted by chirping whistles and protest placards.  Each time, Tump paused, frequently yelling, “Get ‘em out!”

Trump opened the rally by parading members of the UI’s football and wrestling squads across the stage. He also pledged allegiance to Iowa by supporting ethanol and keeping Iowa’s presidential preference caucuses first in the nation.

A new poll suggests Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in a statistical dead heat, with five days remaining before the Iowa Caucuses. 

Wednesday's Quinnipiac poll has the Vermont Senator favored by 49 percent of likely Democratic caucus participants surveyed, and the former Secretary of State favored by 45 percent. This four-point spread is within the margin of error. 

Jericho/Wikimedia Commons

Income inequality and the shrinking middle class are major themes in this election cycle, and that's just as true in Iowa as it is elsewhere in the country. Iowa, however, is one of the more equitable states in the country. That's according to David Peters, an associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University. 

John Pemble/IPR

The head of education spending in the Iowa Senate has dim hopes for increased funding for the state universities next year, and he predicts the Regents will not be able to freeze tuition.    

Governor Branstad’s budget includes 8 million new dollars for the universities, with the Board of Regents deciding how to divide it up among the three schools.    

But Arlington Democrat Brian Schoenjahn says that should be the legislature’s job.

With less than a week before the Iowa Caucuses, it seems to be a two-man race in the GOP field. The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows a statical dead heat between real-estate mogul Donald Trump with 31-percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 29-percent. 

Photo by John Pemble

The U.S. Senate could vote this week on the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which aims to upgrade the country's power grid, improve energy efficiency, and repeal outdated provisions in the US Code. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says the bipartisan bill doesn't specifically address ethanol production or wind energy tax credits, two issues he recognizes as important to Iowans.

Dean Borg/IPR

Texas Senator Ted Cruz isn’t backing away from advocating eliminating the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) for mandating a specified amount of ethanol that must be incorporated into the nation’s motor fuels.

Cruz defends his views even though Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says Iowans should rebuff the  Texas Senator’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination because of Iowa’s stake in producing corn-based ethanol.

Monica Reyes, founder, Dream Iowa

A Latino advocacy group is working hard to get voters out to their precinct caucuses on February 1st.  

They have ambitious goals for how many Latinos will participate.  An immigration expert says their targets are realistic.  

Close to a hundred Latinos gathered on a recent Sunday at Grandview University in Des Moines.   Part of the agenda was to learn how the Iowa caucuses work.    

Christian Ucles walks them through a typical Democratic caucus, where supporters of a certain candidate gather together in a group in a corner of the room.     

Flickr / Jennifer Morrow

With six weeks to go before Iowa’s Medicaid program is tentatively scheduled to become privately managed, Medicaid Director Mikki Stier says she's "very confident" Iowa will be ready. The federal government delayed the state's plans to privatize Medicaid on New Year's Day, despite Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa's Department of Human Services insisting the state was ready to make the switch.  

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Nineteen states have adopted policies that leave questions about criminal history off a first round job application. Legislation to “ban the box” is now being considered in Iowa, with civil rights groups for the move, and some business leaders speaking out against it. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Justin R. McCarthy, a welder with a felony conviction on his record, about finding work after being released from federal prison.

Courtesy of Robert John Ford, creator and producer of Caucus! The Musical

Zachary Michael Jack, a farmer and teacher, is a seventh-generation Iowan who still lives in rural Jones County. He has followed Iowa’s caucuses his entire life.

In fact, he’s followed them closely enough to write a novel based on the quadrennial political gatherings, Corn Poll: A Novel of the Iowa Caucuses. On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Jack about his inspiration for the book.

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