“Everyone Counts” event on Census Day at River Woods Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, February 17, 2020.
Photo Credit: Des Moines Public Schools (Public Domain)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate Education Committee voted to remove voluntary diversity plans as a reason five Iowa school districts can use to deny open enrollment requests.

The bill,  SF 199, that impacts Des Moines, Davenport, Postville, Waterloo, and West Liberty school districts passed the committee by an 8 to 7 vote.

Open enrollment is a cost-free option by which parents/guardians residing in an Iowa district may enroll their children into another Iowa school district. The resident school district and receiving school district have to approve the request. 

School districts with voluntary diversity plans under Iowa law can deny open enrollment requests for families that do not qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Currently, a family of four whose household income exceeds $47,637.50 would not be eligible.

Families denied open enrollment have to file an appeal in district court to contest a school district’s decision.

Iowa law also allows school districts with a court-ordered desegregation plan to deny open enrollment requests, but there are currently no school districts required to have one. The bill does not impact that exemption.

State Senator Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, ran the bill in committee. He told Caffeinated Thoughts that voluntary diversity plans cited by five Iowa school districts are not about diversity. He said they are a disguise used to close the door to open enrollment to families who want out of the school district.

When it comes to educational opportunities for their students, Zaun said, “I believe parents know best.”

“Open enrollment in Iowa should BE open enrollment. Five school districts should not be allowed to prevent open enrollment when every other district in Iowa cannot do the same,” State Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, the Senate Education Committee chair, told Caffeinated Thoughts. “Open enrollment is important because it allows educational choice for parents.”

State Senators Sinclair, Jerry Behn, R-Boone, Jeff Elder, R-State Center, Craig Johnson, R-Independence, Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, and Zaun voted to pass the bill.

State Senators Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, and Zach Wahls, D-Iowa City voted against the bill.

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