Governor Terry Branstad accused House Republicans of “watering down” his proposed education bill (originally HSB 517, the latest House version is HF 2380) during a public forum on the bill in the House chambers on Monday night.  He said passing anything less is unfair to the kids.

Oh, has he gone over to the dark side?  I can’t believe I’m hearing a Republican Governor essentially use the “it’s for the children” argument.

Having read the initial bill and looking at the current version they haven’t “watered it down” enough.  There are still plenty of problems with this bill such as:

  • The Iowa Core Curriculum expanding to new subject areas.
  • The job posting requirement for nonpublic schools to the statewide database is still in there.
  • There are numerous unfunded mandates throughout the bill.
  • Overall lack of school choice with the exception of charter schools.

Several problem areas have been removed, but many still exist.  Then there is the issue of the erosion of local control and a power grab by the educational bureaucracy in Des Moines.  Vicki Stogdill in her public comments highlights this fact as reported by The Des Moines Register, and I couldn’t say it any better myself:

A preference for local control was also sounded by Des Moines resident Vicki Stogdill, who implored lawmakers to resist giving more power to the state.

“Today we’re seeing more control over our schools by state regulators than ever in the history of Iowa,” Stogdill said. “But it hasn’t netted the desired gains in student achievement.”

The state’s fall from the top of U.S. education rankings has coincided with increasing state control over schools, Stogdill said. That increasing control threatens to turn local school boards into “compliance mechanisms” and “middle managers” rather than elected bodies that set local standards.

Any reforms should resist further state control and give more responsibility to local districts and school boards, she said. “Please reject proposals that hand more power to the state.”

Governor Branstad mentioned the Des Moines Register’s poll that said a majority of Iowans supported his education proposals.  I would suggest that you look at how the questions were asked and what aspects of his education bill were polled.  The question was do you think this aspect will “make a difference.”  That isn’t a tacit endorsement of everything in his plan.

Iowans don’t want status quo.  I don’t want status quo either.  Significant reform needs to take place, but if Governor Branstad didn’t want his bill “watered down” he must step out of the echo chamber of the education bureaucracy and common core cheerleaders.  He should have been engaging school choice advocates and local control advocates the entire time.  We have ideas for reform that his plan doesn’t even touch.

But he ignored us.  He didn’t collaborate.  The summit, the town halls, and public forums were nothing more than pitching what they already planned to do.  Sure they may have fine tuned it, and put some things on hold, but let’s not pretend that they came to people with a blank slate.  If they had perhaps they would find more consensus than opposition within the State Legislature.  The simple fact is this… if you want bipartisan school reform, if you’re really serious about it, then your centerpiece will be items that many people can agree with – school choice is one such item.

Instead since Branstad gave us a watered down attempt at consensus building he can expect a “watered down bill from the House.  All they’re trying to do is to mitigate the damage that his bill will do.

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