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Reynolds Signs Bill Expanding Charter Schools

Jill Rivera, 18, speaks in support of charter schools at a bill signing ceremony held at Starts Right Here, a youth program in Des Moines.
Grant Gerlock
Jill Rivera, 18, speaks in support of charter schools at a bill signing ceremony held at Starts Right Here, a youth program in Des Moines.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law expanding the options to create state-funded charter schools in Iowa.

Iowa’s system of public-funded charter schools is expected to grow under a new law (HF 813) signed Wednesday.

Under the current system, only school boards are allowed to create a charter school. At a signing ceremony held at a Des Moines center for at-risk youth, Gov. Kim Reynolds credited that as the reason just two charters are in operation in Iowa.

She explained that the new law allows groups not affiliated with local school districts to create charter schools, with approval from the State Board of Education.

“And in doing so it will breathe new life into the charter school system, too long stifled by restricted rules,” Reynolds said. “Iowa needs schools as diverse as the needs of its students and that’s exactly what this law aims to deliver.”

Will Keeps leads the education and mentoring program Starts Right Here where the bill signing took place. Keeps said his program welcomes kids who don’t feel at home in a traditional public school.

“That's what passing this charter school bill is about, is to give these kids another option,” Keeps said. “What's wrong with that? What's wrong with making sure these kids have another choice to be successful? What's wrong with that?”

Critics of the charter program say the legislature should do more to support innovative programs at existing public schools, and that the charters lack oversight from local taxpayers.

“We think rather than experiment, why not continue to invest in the proven innovation and quality education we already have in the state of Iowa,” said Melissa Peterson, government relations specialist for the Iowa State Education Association.

The law allows charters to be exempted from many state regulations that apply to public schools. Peterson said there should be more public oversight of charter governing boards to ensure that the flexibility they are granted serves students’ interests.

“The Department of Education has the ability to waive different standards, different restrictions, for example, under the guise of supporting innovation, and that's something we're going to be keeping an eye on," Peterson said.

The legislature has passed a separate proposal requiring charter governing boards to follow open meetings and open records laws.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa