The Des Moines Register on Sunday highlighted a bill, SF 270 (it has a House companion bill: HF 154) introduced last year but tabled and eligible to be brought up again this session. If the bill passed, it eliminates the implementation of a voluntary diversity plan as a reason to deny open enrollment of a student.
Davenport, Des Moines, Postville, Waterloo and West Liberty all use diversity plans to regulate open enrollment. The diversity plan was initially based on race until the Supreme Court deemed that unconstitutional. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2017, Des Moines changed their plan to focus on whether or not a family qualified for free or reduced school lunches instead, as did most districts implementing a diversity plan.
My family, even though we homeschool, were denied an open enrollment request for our oldest daughter. We live in Pleasant Hill. She took 5th-grade band at Pleasant Hill Elementary which is within walking distance from our house. We tried to open enroll her in the SE Polk school district so she could go to Four Mile Elementary School for 6th-grade band instead of Hoyt Middle School in Des Moines. We wanted to do this for several reasons. For starters, Four Mile Elementary is a lot closer to our home. Secondly, neither my wife or I like the concept of Middle School; we believe 6th grade should be in elementary school or a pre-Middle School with 4th and 5th graders. It is a concept that primarily came about due to a lack of building space, not because it made sense for kids. Also, at the time, I worked with juvenile offenders and saw way too many kids from Hoyt in the system.
We applied, and she was denied – twice. She stopped taking band. After the Supreme Court decision when we considered open enrollment for our other children, we decided that the school had no business knowing how much money we made along with additional information that the intrusive form requested.
Open enrollment gives parents some control over where their student attends school. This enables families who may not be able to afford tuition at a private school or the potential loss of income when one parent leaves work to homeschool to have some options.
Ultimately, this is not about diversity; it is about school districts keeping state aid that is determined by enrollment.
The Des Moines Register‘s article mentioned opponents of the bill worry about it leading to schools to resegregate. That is utter hogwash if every family has the opportunity to open enroll if they so choose. Segregation before the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision was compulsory. The current law allows certain school districts to hold hostage any public school family that does not meet their criteria for open enrollment which is also compulsory.
Open enrollment, in my opinion, aligns more with the spirit of desegregation than a school enforcing their diversity plan. Schools should work to entice families to stay by providing safe schools and a quality education instead of forcing them to stay when they want to leave.
We polled this question among our Republican readers, as the current school year started, 79.8 percent were opposed to the current law. Only 4.3 percent agreed with it.
Changing the law is just common sense.
State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) is the sponsor of SF 270. State Representative Dean Fisher (R-Montour) is the sponsor of HF 154. School Administrators of Iowa, Child and Family Policy Center, Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, Iowa Annual Conference of United Methodists, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, Urban Education Network of Iowa, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, Iowa State Education Association, Iowa Association of School Boards, and Des Moines Public Schools registered opposition to this change.
Americans for Prosperity expressed support for the SF 270 last session.