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Iowa senators advance charter school expansion
DES MOINES - Majority Senate Republicans advanced bills Tuesday to expand Iowa's system of charter schools and to ban stereotyping in diversity training in schools, colleges and beyond as legislators worked to keep alive their pet issues with a Friday funnel deadline looming.
Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Senate Education Committee, told a subcommittee House File 813 would allow for an expansion of charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools that would help foster innovation, opportunities and more educational choices.
The measure would allow a founding group to apply directly with the state Department of Education to form a charter school. The bill also would retain the current method of applying to the local school board to create a charter.
'Public schools do a great job in the state of Iowa, educating a majority of students, but we know there are students who are falling through the cracks,” said Logan Shine, a liaison for Gov. Kim Reynolds who promoted the concept of a new tool for parents wanting the best education option for their kids. 'All this is doing is allowing a choice, giving the control to the parent to make that decision.”
Critics of the concept argued against giving taxpayer dollars to charter schools that would not have the required oversight, accountability and transparency that guide public schools. At a minimum, they also argued, administrators should be licensed and the operations should be subject to open meetings, open records and competitive bidding requirements.
However, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, and public school advocates who pointed to Iowa's high rankings in high school graduation rates, ACT participation and record community college credits asked what problem the bill was trying to fix.
Proponents like Mark Jacobs and Cynthia Knight said the charter school concept offered a 'transformational” model to close the achievement gap and meet the needs of students not being served by traditional public schools or dropping out.
Sinclair said the full committee will take up the bill Thursday in advance of this week's deadline for policy bills to clear on legislative chamber and a standing committee of the other chamber to remain eligible for consideration during the 2021 session's final scheduled month.
Also Tuesday, members of the Senate Education Committee, on an 8-5 party-line vote, approved a House-passed measure that would prohibit teaching of divisive concepts, such as political ideology, one's moral character being determined by one's race or sex, that the United States and Iowa are fundamentally or systematically racist and sexist, and that meritocracy or traits such as a work ethic are racist or sexist. House File 802 would bar public schools and universities as well as any state or local government agency from having diversity training that suggests Iowa or the nation is 'fundamentally racist.”
Sinclair said the House split a measure (Senate File 478) the Senate previously passed into two separate bills and strayed considerably from language the Senate approved.
She said she planned to offer an amendment during floor debate to restore the Senate's language in several areas to 'head off unintended consequences” and work with the House to reach a consensus or compromise in the session's closing weeks.
'There are so many things wrong with this bill,” said Quirmbach, who called the concepts in House File 802 'disastrous,” likely unconstitutional and troubling in the way the 'overly broad” scope of the legislation 'metastasized” to other parts of state government, the judicial branch and public-private agreements that counties enter into with private companies or nonprofits.
The bill should be rejected, he added.
First Amendment rights
On a separate voice vote, the Senate panel approved House File 744, legislation requiring regents universities to protect First Amendment rights. The bill that calls for faculty and students at the three state universities to be trained each year about free speech rights and applies the same free speech policies at the state's community colleges that are proposed for the public universities.
The Senate Education Committee also voted to forward the confirmation of Ann Lebo as director of the Iowa Department of Education to the full Senate for consideration, although three Democrats voted 'no” in committee.
On another confirmation, members of the Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee voted 8-6 to forward Erik Helland, Reynolds' appointee to the Public Employment Relations Board, to the Senate's individual confirmation calendar.
Meanwhile, members of the Senate State Government Committee agreed by voice vote to approve the confirmations of Adam Steen as director of the state Department of Administrative Services and Michael Bousselot as director of the state Department of Management, although four Democrats voted 'no” on Bousselot's appointment.
Also Tuesday, members of the Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee voted to bar businesses from requiring their workers to be implanted with a microchip. Before approving House File 259, senators amended it to include barring the placement of anything on an employee's body that can't be removed and created a $1,000 civil fine for each violation of the bill's prohibitions.
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