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A revised version of Gov. Reynolds’ education bill takes shape in the Iowa House

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priority education bill is moving to the full Iowa House, but not in its original form.
Grant Gerlock
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priority education bill is moving to the full Iowa House, but not in its original form.

A version of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priority education bill is advancing to the floor of the Iowa House. The bill (HF 2499) was advanced Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee, but only after changes were made to several key provisions.

Reynolds’ signature proposal, which would provide state-funded scholarships to help some families pay for private school, was omitted from the bill. That does not necessarily mean the voucher-style program is doomed in the House. Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said Thursday that discussions around the idea are still happening.

The amended bill keeps a provision requiring school districts to test high school students on their knowledge of civics and government. However, passing the test would no longer be a graduation requirement as Reynolds first proposed.

The bill holds onto Reynolds’ proposals aimed at school transparency and recent book controversies, but there have been changes to those sections as well.

Republican lawmakers who worked on the revisions, with input from education groups and the governor’s office, said they wanted to reflect best practices already in place in most school districts.

Under the amended proposal, teachers would have to share in advance what materials they plan to use in class, but the district could meet that requirement by giving parents access to learning management software such as Canvas or Google Classroom.

Currently, 84 percent of school districts currently have that kind of classroom software in place, according to a fiscal analysis by the Legislative Services Agency, which cites a survey by the Iowa Association of School Boards.

Rep. Garrett Gobble, R-Ankeny, who teaches U.S. history in the Ankeny Community School District, told a House subcommittee that he agrees parents should know what teachers are using in class. But, he said, the original requirement to post all class materials before the start of the semester was unworkable.

“We need to be able to change and be dynamic and meet the needs of our kids throughout the day, and trying to be static with that twice a year would not have been possible,” Gobble said.

The updated bill gives teachers time to update class information if lesson plans change, Gobble said, so that they are not locked into materials chosen before the start of the semester.

Melissa Peterson of the Iowa State Education Association told the subcommittee that the changes better reflect what happens in the classroom. She said teachers support transparency but also have a job to do.

“Encouraging parental engagement, involvement, is absolutely a good thing but we do want to ensure we are not being unnecessarily burdensome to our practitioners, distracting them from the important work of working with their students on a daily basis,” Peterson said.

The bill requires school districts to publish online a list of all the books in their libraries. The same survey cited in the fiscal analysis found that 55 percent of schools have online catalogs that can be accessed by the public. Under the amended proposal, schools would have until July 2025 to put a similar system in place.

The amended version advanced this week also allows a parent to request for their student to not be allowed to check out certain books from the library. Gobble said it gives parents who object to a particular book an option other than asking that the book be removed entirely from the school.

“If you as a parent are concerned about your student checking out a certain material, you can make that concern known to the district and then you have the say in your child's education without going through the process of forcing a decision to be made for the entire school,” he said.

It is not clear how the latest version of the bill would fare in the Iowa Senate, where Gov. Reynolds’ plan for state-funded scholarships found favor in the past. The bill’s floor manager, Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Jefferson, said his discussions have been with the governor’s office and that the Senate is going through its own process.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa