State Rep. Jake Highfill (R-Johnston) introduces two bills returning home rule to local school boards.
Photo credit: Iowa House Republicans

There have been several bills filed in the Iowa House and Senate dedicated to devolving the power and control the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa State Board of Education have over local school districts. Over the years duly elected school boards have lost control of when they can start school, the standards they follow, assessments they are required to give, and even if they can implement mandatory school uniform policies.

State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) filed his annual bill ending the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa State Board of Education. Senate File 29 was introduced into the Senate Education Committee last week and if passed it would shift responsibilities of the Iowa Department of Education and State Board to local school boards, area education agencies, the Iowa Department of Management and Iowa Department of Revenue.

It has been assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senators Jerry Behn (R-Boone), Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) and Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa). In past sessions this bill was typically ignored or assigned to a subcommittee where it would die when the 1st funnel week would arrive. With a Republican majority it may get some traction though it’s hard to see enough legislators going along with ending the Department and Board, let alone the Governor signing it into law.

Zaun’s bill a bevy of opposition with the ACLU of Iowa, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, School Administrators of Iowa, AFSCME Council 61, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, Urban Education Network of Iowa, Iowa Association of School Boards, Iowa Department of Education (shocker), Iowa State Education Association, Iowa Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), and Interfaith Alliance of Iowa registering against the bill.

SF 29 also creates an Education Savings Account (ESA) which would provide for families per student that participates “an amount equal to the difference between eighty-seven and five-tenths percent of the regular program state cost per pupil and the statewide average foundation property tax per pupil for the same school year.”

For pre-school students it would amount to 50 percent of the state program costs for preschool per student.

This would pay for “qualified educational expenses” which includes in the bill: “tuition and fees at a nonpublic school or nonpublic preschool, textbooks, fees or payments for tutoring or cognitive skills training, curriculum materials, tuition or fees for nonpublic online education programs, education materials and services for pupils with disabilities, standardized test fees, fees required by the department not to exceed for each grant recipient five percent of the total grant amount in any fiscal year, and other expenses incurred by the parent or guardian that are directly related to the education of the pupil at a nonpublic preschool or a nonpublic school, including a nonpublic school accredited by an independent accrediting agency approved by the department of management, or directly related to providing competent private instruction for the pupil under chapter 299A or private preschool instruction.”

It also can be used for the purchase of a computer or tablet per student if a purchase had not been made using ESA funds in the previous two fiscal years.

I expect a clean ESA bill to be filed soon, possibly next week for National School Choice Week, which will have a greater chance to advance without the controversial Iowa Department of Education language.

State Representative John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) introduced House File 9 this week into the House Education Committee. It’s a parental control more than a local control bill. It allows parents of students in a “lowest-achieving school” as identified by the Iowa Department of Education to petition local school districts for the closure of the school (“attendance center”), for the implementation of an education voucher program (similar to ESAs) or for the creation of  charter school.

A “lowest-achieving school” is defined in Iowa Code as a school that

Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa Association of School Boards and the Iowa State Education Association are registered against the bill.

State Representative Jake Highfill (R-Johnston) introduced House Joint Resolution 3 into the House Education Committee today which proposes a constitutional amendment “to provide home rule powers and authority for school districts. The home rule powers cannot be inconsistent with state law and the power to levy  any tax is limited to those taxes expressly authorized by the general assembly. If the power or authority of a school district conflicts with the power and authority of a municipal corporation, county, or joint county-municipal corporation government, the power and authority exercised by a municipal corporation, county, or joint county-municipal corporation government shall prevail within the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation, county, or joint county-municipal corporation government.”

So it returns a lot of power over education policy back to school districts. If passed it will have to be passed again during the 88th General Assembly before Iowans can vote on it.

Highfill also introduced a bill, House File 26, which also deals with home rule, but would add language in the Iowa Code rather than the Constitution. The bill authorizes a school board to exercise any broad or implied power, not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly, related to the operation, control, and supervision of the public schools located within its district boundaries. However, the authority does not encompass the power to levy any tax unless expressly authorized by the general assembly. Statutes relating to school boards and school districts shall be liberally construed to effectuate the authority granted under the bill.

Zaun also introduced Senate File 30 into the Senate Education Committee last week. This bill eliminates references and requirements to the Iowa Common Core or core curriculum or core content standards in the Iowa Code, but continues to direct the state board of education to adopt high school graduation requirements and assessment standards. It also creates a new task force for the development of a new assessment.

This bill was assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senator Craig Johnson (R-Independence), Rita Hart (D-Wheatland), and Tim Kraayanbrink (R-Ft. Dodge). The Iowa Department of Education, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, Iowa Association of School Boards, and Iowa State Education Association have registered against the bill.

Zaun has also sponsored Senate File 31 that was introduced into the Senate Education Committee last week. This bill simply gives school boards who want to establish mandatory uniform policies for their school districts the ability to do so. Prior to this it was understood in Iowa Code and Administrative Rules that school districts could not do this. State Senators Tom Greene (R-Burlington), Quirmbach and Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) make up the subcommittee this bill is assigned to.

These bills do not include bills that have been filed related to school finance, pre-school, and teacher preparation programs.

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