116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — School transparency requirements, parental objections to classroom materials, and a proposed taxpayer-funded private school tuition assistance program have been addressed by majority Republican state lawmakers.
Now, to get something passed into a new state law, those Republicans must come together and reach a compromise agreement.
Because as it stands, their proposals vary in multiple and significant ways.
Majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed their version Wednesday, approving legislation that would require public K-12 schools to publish classroom materials and curriculum online, provide avenues for parents to shield their children from any sexually explicit classroom materials, and shift taxpayer funding for public schools to a scholarship program for private school students from moderate- or low-income families.
The scholarship program would make an estimated $5,520 in tuition assistance available to students from families at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $111,000 in income for a family of four.
The proposal is similar to the one introduced early this legislative session by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The bill, Senate File 2369, passed on mostly a party-line vote, 31-18, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. Republican Sen. Annette Sweeney of Alden was the lone crossover.
Senate Republicans argued the legislation will empower more parents to make the choice to send their children to private schools if those parents have an issue with their local public school.
“This is not an attack on teachers or our schools. … This is not a bill designed to undermine public education,” Sen. Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton who chairs the Senate’s education committee, said during floor debate. “Plain and simple, folks, this bill is about parental rights. It’s just that simple. Parents have rights, and this bill codifies some of those rights.”
Sen. Jim Carlin, a Sioux City Republican who is mounting a primary challenge to longtime U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, during debate expressed his concern regarding “a leftist agenda to indoctrinate and sexualize the identity of children.” He also cited concerns about transgender students using bathrooms of the gender with which they identify, and falsely accused the Black history project “The 1619 Project” of teaching students to hate America.
Senate Democrats introduced amendments that would have isolated the elements of the bill that have bipartisan support, like the parents’ bill of rights; required private schools to adhere to the same transparency requirements as public schools; and added more leeway for educators to withhold some communications between students and educators, if it may place the student in danger. Majority Republicans rejected each proposal.
Democrats warned that the private school scholarship proposal would adversely impact public schools, and argued taxpayer funding should not go to schools that are not held to the same public accountability standards and are not required to accept all students.
“It would be like using taxpayer dollars to pave a road the public can’t drive on, or a private pool that our kids can’t swim in,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, the Senate Democrats’ leader from Coralville. “Why on earth would we give private schools our taxpayer dollars when they don’t have the commitment or the responsibility of educating all Iowa students.”
Roughly 24 hours earlier, on Tuesday night, majority Republicans in the Iowa House passed their own version of school transparency legislation.
That bill, House File 2577, also contains school transparency requirements, but they are not as stringent as the Senate version.
Also, the House bill does not contain the private school tuition assistance program. In 2021, a similar proposal failed to gain sufficient support in the House, even with its Republican majority. The proposal is facing a similar hurdle in the House this year.
“Iowa parents have raised concerns over age-inappropriate material and left-leaning curriculum in their child’s classroom and school libraries,” Rep. Phil Thompson, a Republican from Jefferson who oversaw the House bill, said in a news release Wednesday. “I believe that parents matter, and they deserve a voice in their child’s education. The best way to give them back their voice is to increase transparency. Parents deserve to know what their child is being taught.”
Eventually, Republican leaders in the House and Senate, along with Reynolds, will have to come to a compromise agreement on the myriad subjects broached in these bills.
“We’re continuing to work on (the private school scholarship program). I’m going to continue to be optimistic right into the end,” Reynolds said at a news conference earlier Wednesday. “I think it lifts all of education up. I think it’s a positive thing. I don’t think it’s anything that other schools should be afraid of, because a strong public school system is also fundamental to our state and the success of our state. So they can coexist together.”
Neither bill contains a path for parents to sue educators over school materials and create criminal penalties for those educators, as was proposed earlier this session by Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, and passed through the Senate’s judiciary committee led by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale.
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