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Charter School Expansion Bill Sent To Governor

Growing Iowa’s charter school program was a key priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds.
John Pemble
IPR file
Growing Iowa’s charter school program was a key priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to sign a bill (HF 813) given final approval in the Iowa Senate Wednesday that creates a new pathway to establish charter schools in Iowa.

The proposal would allow a private founding group, operating independently from the local school board, to apply to the State Board of Education to open a new charter school. If approved for a five-year contract, state funding would be provided to the new school through the local public district based on the number of students who enroll in the charter.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she supports the plan as a way to fill gaps in the public school system.

“Not all students thrive in a traditional classroom. Not all students are on a path towards college,” Sinclair said during debate on the Senate floor. “Not all students should be held back to languish at the average. Not all students can succeed without focused support.”

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, opposed the plan and said the legislature should focus education spending on improving existing public schools.

“We should be reinvesting in our public schools, not starting a completely new system that is certain to decrease public input and which is very likely to fail the students who take a chance on this very risky business model,” Celsi said.

The bill was given final passage on a party-line vote of 30-18.

Several changes to the program were passed as part of separate bill (HF 847), including a limit on the potential number of charters. The amendment directs the State Board of Education to deny an application if it would result in more than one charter school for every 10,000 K-12 students in a given area.

That same bill, which now goes back to the Iowa House, makes charter school governing boards subject to open records laws in addition to open meetings laws, and it requires the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners to create a system to authorize charter school administrators.

Democrats attempted to pass an amendment requiring that charter school chief administrators be licensed as a principal or superintendent. That amendment failed, with Sinclair saying charter schools should have the option to choose administrators who come from outside of education.

Expanding the charter school system was a major school choice goal for Gov. Reynolds. Another key proposal, a school voucher program, will not pass this session, but bills increasing open enrollment likely will.

Those include a bill already sent to Reynolds ending enrollment restrictions in five districts with voluntary diversity plans meant to prevent racial and economic segregation.

Ban On Some Diversity Training Concepts Sent Back To House

The Iowa Senate also passed a bill Wednesday (HF 802) that would prohibit some kinds of curriculum and training about racism and sexism at schools, as well as by state and local government agencies.

A list of banned concepts includes the idea that Iowa or the United States are systemically racist, and that an individual may be unconsciously racist.

An amendment passed by the Senate states that the bill is not meant to prohibit teaching about sexism or racism, but opponents said the list of ideas that are blocked could forbid discussion on topics such as reparations or implicit bias.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, said if the bill becomes law schools and government agencies may cancel diversity trainings rather than risk violating the rules.

“This confusing mess of a bill will chill free speech,” Trone Garriott said. “It will chill the speech of well-intentioned educators who can’t find clear direction here but only find pitfalls and traps.”

Sinclair said the bill protects against “scapegoating” of a particular group for racism or sexism.

“We are seeing curriculums and instruction creep into our schools that are fundamentally hostile to a specific race or sex and it must stop,” she said.

The amended bill now goes back for consideration in the Iowa House.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa