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‘School choice’ isn’t enough for Iowa Republicans
We just got done handing billions of state dollars over the next decade to Iowa families who want to send their kids to private school.
It was sold under the benign banner of “school choice.” But behind that simple slogan was an onslaught of fabricated attacks on public schools, hammering on books in their libraries, efforts to support LGBTQ students and how they teach our nation’s history, especially pertaining to racism.
You’d think now that their conservative constituents have a state-funded golden parachute to escape public schools, Republicans might ease up on their attacks. They now own the libs, although the purchase price was exceedingly high.
But you’d be wrong. Apparently “choice” isn’t enough. It never is with this GOP majority and governor.
The latest sword hanging over public schools is House Study Bill 112.
In 2021, the Legislature famously passed a law prohibiting any curriculum or staff training that teaches, advocates or encourages “stereotyping and scapegoating toward others on the basis of demographic group membership or identity.” Allow me to translate. Republicans don’t want to make white kids learn about racism that has shaped our nation and continues to plague our society and institutions. It might make them feel uncomfortable.
HSB 112 weaponizes that 2021 law. The bill would create a process where students and parents can go to the Department of Education website and report teachers and staff they believe are violating the law by teaching divisive concepts. The department would then investigate, and if it finds the report is valid, it would give the local school board 14 days to correct the violation.
If the local board doesn’t act, the district would face a civil penalty of up to $5,000. As the bill is currently written, neither the district nor the accused educator get a chance to mount a defense. All reports would be compiled and reported to the Legislature each July. Surely they’ll be the source of some real rousing speeches on the campaign trail. Context not included.
Teach the Legislature’s preferred brand of history, or else. Hell of a way to celebrate Black History Month.
Backers say the bill is needed because they’ve heard districts are breaking the law. This cannot stand. But, hey, nobody promised being the thought police would be easy.
The Senate is considering a bill that would ban any teaching about gender identity in grades K-8. The House is also considering a bill banning lessons regarding LGBTQ people in grades K-3.
Add those to House File 180, which prohibits districts from offering support to transgender students without parental permission and requires school staff to inform parents if a student has or is transitioning, and you’ve created a chilling effect on educators that makes a polar vortex seem balmy.
Staff must be informants on students. Parents are informants on staff. Maybe that 2022 bill requiring surveillance cameras in classrooms will make a comeback.
So go ahead, teachers, march into this culture war minefield every day. Watch what you say. Watch what you teach. Watch how you decorate your classrooms. The Golden Dome of Wisdom is watching. Truth is no defense. This stuff should do wonders for Iowa’s teacher shortage.
What about the kids being targeted? A few came to bravely testify before Statehouse subcommittees this past week to urge lawmakers to step away from these efforts to deny them support at school and erase their lives from lesson plans. At best, their pleas fell on deaf ears. At worst, they were mocked by bill backers convinced being transgender isn’t a real thing, but is a real threat.
Talk about heartless, and clueless.
With that cruel calculation as a backdrop, backers want state power wielded to further marginalize already marginalized kids, who face higher rates of homelessness and suicide than other kids. They demand that schools out them to their parents, even if the kids fear how their families will react. Lawmakers can’t worry about a few broken lives as they lead us down the path of righteousness.
Reckless indifference is a feature, not a flaw, in this agenda.
Never mind that Iowa law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. But a bill was introduced this past week to do away with that protection.
Also this past week the governor argued that if a book is banned by one school district, it should be banned in all districts. This is the stuff of an authoritarian regime, not a democratically elected government.
And so much for parental “choice.”
Parents who want their children to learn history without a coat of whitewash and about the lives of LGBTQ people who exist in the real world, in an inclusive environment for all kids, will have very little choice. Public schools will be governed by some Iowans’ rigid version of Christianity and of history that bears little resemblance to reality.
Or you can go to a private, likely religious, school. But probably not if your kid is LGBTQ. Good luck.
Iowa’s once valued public schools are under siege. A barrage of bills is coming so fast it’s hard to keep track. A source of state pride has become the target of dishonest disdain. Call up the litter box legions, the bathroom battalions and the “Don’t Say Gay” dragoons. This is war, on kids who can’t fight back.
Working to create high quality public schools was an Iowa idea. Now we just march in lockstep with a bunch of other red states, checking off boxes on the national GOP playbook.
We can only imagine what these Republicans will think up next. Or maybe we should save time and just ask Ron DeSantis. Because no matter what they approve this year, it won’t be enough. It never is.
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