The Good and the Bad of the Iowa House Education Bill

The Iowa House passed Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform bill (HF 215) with amendments.  I liveblogged during the debate last night.  I wanted to share my thoughts about the bill as it stands now.

The Good:

There are five excellent amendments that were offered and passed.

  1. Homeschooling parents are not required to have their child assessed, and if I am reading this amendment correctly, it looks like a supervisory teacher or portfolio are no longer necessary either as those are the options given under Iowa law.  The key change can be seen with this statement – “A parent, guardian, or legal custodian of a child of compulsory attendance age providing competent private instruction to the child shall may meet all of the following requirements.”  Changing “shall” to “may” changes the options mandated for homeschooling families to something that is optional.  Kudos to State Representative Matt Windschitl for introducing this amendment.
  2. Independent accreditation for non-public schools.   State Representative Cecil Dolecheck introduced this amendment.  Currently in Iowa the only accreditation that is recognized by the Iowa Department of Education is the state accreditation that they do for non-public schools.  Being accredited allows a non-public school to benefit from the school tuition organizations (people who donate get tax credits), transportation reimbursement, textbook reimbursement fund for non-religious text books, AEA support (cost sharing for media, professional developed, etc.) and for marketing purposes.  Saying you are accredited obviously sounds more attractive for parents than not.  Anyway, this bill allows schools to be accredited by say the Association of Christian Schools International and still receive those benefits.  Schools also will likely not have formally adopt the Iowa Core or Common Core State Standards (though they’ll still be impacted by standardized testing) unless their accrediting body expects that.
  3. Local school districts are given “home rule.” – State Representative Josh Byrnes introduced this amendment.  This is the only time last night that I heard local control brought up and it warmed my heart Smile.  The key section reads, “The board of directors of a school district shall operate, control, and supervise all public schools located within its district boundaries and may exercise any broad and implied power related to the operation, control, and supervision of those public schools except as expressly prohibited or prescribed by the Constitution of the State of Iowa or by statute.”  It doesn’t allow a school board to levy a tax not authorized by the Iowa Legislature, however, it does allow schools that want to be innovative to make changes without having to seek approval from the Iowa Department of Education (unless the change is already prohibited by state law).
  4. Bye, bye Competent Private Instruction formsThis amendment offered by State Representative Cecil Dolecheck basically states that homeschooling families no longer need to report their intent to homeschool to their local school district.  Current state law states that families who want to have their kids receive instruction outside of their local school or accredited nonpublic school needs to complete a “Competent Private Instruction” (CPI) form and turn it into their local school district office.  Homeschooling families, mine included, would rather tell our local school districts to buzz off because it is none of their business.
  5. Homeschool Drivers’ EducationThis amendment offered by State Representative Windschitl allows a homeschool parent to teach their children driver’s education.  For most of us in the homeschooling community it seemed nonsensical that we would be entrusted to teach our children subjects like Math and English, but couldn’t teach them to drive?  Windschitl mentioned in his remarks that in some school districts it has been difficult for homeschooling families to even get into a driver’s education program.  Those of us who have had to go to a for-profit entity for drivers’ education have incurred a major expense.  This is simply common sense and for some reason it received the most debate from the Democratic caucus which I found odd.

I’m not holding my breath that all of these amendments will get passed by the Iowa Senate, but some may or at the very least be approved in a conference committee between the House and the Senate when they are working out differences between their two bills.  I’ve been told that the Governor’s office has said that Governor Branstad would sign a bill that included all of the above so the primary obstacle is the Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

The Bad:

This bill still contains some of the unfavorable provisions that I have written about before, but some have been mitigated somewhat.

  1. Increased beginning teacher’s pay – The bill raises the starting teacher’s pay to $32,000 from $28,000.  This isn’t as much as the $35,000 originally discussed when Governor Branstad introduced his agenda.
  2. Career Pathways/Leadership Roles – they still exist, but it looks like again that has been mitigated somewhat by allowing some flexibility.  The bill states, “A school district may apply to the department for approval to implement the career paths, leadership roles, and compensation framework specified in subsection 2, or a comparable system of career paths and compensation for teachers that contains differentiated multiple leadership roles.”
  3. Teacher evaluations – School districts will still be required to do annual evaluations – which I’ve been told by a former principal are quite comprehensive.  So one has to question how realistic this is, and again this is something that school boards, not the State Legislature should be deciding.
  4. Job listing website – I’m still not excited about the state mandating to a school district that they “shall” submit their job openings on the site, but at least it doesn’t prohibit them from recruiting candidates independently or provide the Department of Education with any regulatory authority in the hiring process or hiring decisions.
  5. Increased funding – over all this increase education spending.  When you consider education spending takes up over 60% of the state budget and then there is local funding and federal funding on top of this please don’t tell me that public schools don’t get enough funding.
  6. SBAC Assessments Snuck Through: I wrote at Truth in American Education that there would have to be a statutory change for the Iowa State Board of Education to mandate assessments for local school districts.  So currently they can not tell a local school district to implement the Smarter Balanced Assessments. So there was an amendment to an amendment filed that gave them the authority needed.  It was last minute so it flew under the radar.  The original amendment H1043 was pretty benign, and then you have this language:

…for the school year beginning July 1, 2014, and each succeeding school year, the rules shall provide that all students enrolled in school districts in grades three through eleven shall, within forty-five days of the end of the school year, be administered an assessment that at a minimum assesses the indicators identified in this paragraph “b;” is aligned with the Iowa common core standards in both content and rigor; is developed by a consortium in which the state of Iowa is a participant… (emphasis mine)

All in all it is a much better bill than it originally was.  It promotes educational freedom, but unfortunately will keep us further entrenched in the Common Core.  I’d encourage you to contact State Representative Ron Jorgensen who authored that amendment why he was confortable with that language.

About Shane Vander Hart

Shane Vander Hart founded Iowans for Local Control in 2012 which later merged with Iowa RestorEd. Shane also is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts and the founder and president of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Google +.

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