116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / State Government
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs sweeping education changes into law
Changes ‘put parents in driver’s seat,’ she says; opponents say LGBTQ kids targeted
Caleb McCullough, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
May. 26, 2023 4:00 pm, Updated: May. 26, 2023 7:13 pm
DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a slate of education bills into law Friday, including a bill limiting LGBTQ instruction topics through sixth grade and barring books with sexual content from school libraries.
The bill, Senate File 496, was a top priority of both Reynolds and legislative Republicans this session. They said the measure will expand parents' rights and give parents more input into their children's education.
“This legislative session, we secured transformational education reform that puts parents in the driver's seat, eliminates burdensome regulations on public schools, provides flexibility to raise teacher salaries and empowers teachers to prepare our kids for their future,” Reynolds said in a statement.
“Education is the great equalizer and everyone involved — parents, educators, our children — deserves an environment where they can thrive.”
The bill institutes a wide range of education requirements and restrictions, including:
- Instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity will be barred in kindergarten through sixth grade.
- Books depicting or describing sex acts will be banned from school libraries. Religious texts will be exempted.
- Schools will need to notify parents if a student requests changing their name or pronouns.
- Schools must put their library catalog online and allow parents to review certain instructional materials and have a policy that allows someone to request removal of any classroom materials.
- Codifies parents’ rights and requires parents’ permission before a student takes a survey that asks about political affiliation and mental health problems, among other things.
The bill also allows students to transfer to a different building in the same school system if they experience harassment or bullying and allows home-schooled children with special needs to dual-enroll at their home school district for special education instruction.
The bill passed the Legislature this year with only Republican support.
Democrats said the bill was unnecessary, stifled teacher and student freedoms and further ostracized LGBTQ students. Republicans said the bill limits what they see as a political agenda in schools and puts parents in charge of their children's education.
“For all the LGBTQ+ kids and families who feel targeted by the governor and her allies this session, we see you and we love you," state Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said in a statement. "You deserve the freedom to be yourself and be happy without interference from politicians. We’re going to keep fighting for you."
The law also was opposed by the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
“Today, with her veto power, Gov. Reynolds had an opportunity to support the thousands of great education professionals who work hard to educate, support, and elevate the students in their care,” ISEA President Mike Beranek said in an emailed statement.
“She chose not to exercise this power, and instead, cemented laws that are designed to intimidate, censor and harm the educators and students who work in and attend our public schools.”
It was also opposed by LGBTQ rights organizations, who said it would put transgender youth in danger.
“Senate File 496 is anti-child, anti-parent and anti-educator,” Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Becky Tayler said in a statement. “With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Reynolds has punctuated her crusade against LGBTQ youth this session."
Reynolds also signed a bill into law loosening regulations at public schools, including the requirements for graduation, how classes must be taught and who may teach them.
Senate File 391 was another bill Reynolds introduced, which she said would remove burdens from schools, allow flexibility and cut costs.
Starting in the next school year, schools will:
- No longer have to report a comprehensive improvement plan to the state.
- Be able to hire a public librarian to be a school librarian, rather than a certified teacher librarian.
- Be allowed to teach multiple sequential units of the same subject in the same classroom.
- Be able to have community college instructors teach more classes.
The law changes the number of classes schools are required to teach. It changes a foreign language requirement from four years to two and now requires two years instead of three of fine arts.
Students also will have more options for waivers from physical education classes and will not be required to take financial literacy classes.
Schools will not be allowed to deliver more than 30 hours of instruction online per year.
Between the two laws, schools also will no longer be required to teach about HIV, AIDS or HPV and the availability of an HPV vaccine. Schools are still required to teach about sexually transmitted diseases, but teaching about those three specific diseases will be optional.
Reynolds signed five other education bills into law Friday, dealing with teacher licensing and discipline, the state Board of Educational Examiners and more.
House File 430 will change the makeup of the state Board of Educational Examiners, putting more parents on the board that licenses and disciplines teachers in the state.
The 13-member board now will have:
- Four members of the public who have never held a teacher’s license, including two parents with a child currently enrolled in school, and one current or former school board member.
- Eight licensed practitioners, including three administrators and one employee of a non-public school.
- The Department of Education director or their designee.
The board now has two members of the public, nine licensed practitioners, and the Department of Education director.
House File 135 requires the state Board of Regents to publish income and debt data for college graduates and provide that information to undergraduates.
House File 604 seeks to address violence in schools.
House File 672 changes background checks and renewal requirements for teachers.
And House File 614 allows teachers licensed in another state to receive an Iowa teaching license.