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Reynolds pledges to follow school choice with push for transparency rules in public schools

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State.
Kelsey Kremer
The Des Moines Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds said she has more reforms in mind for K-12 education during this legislative session. One proposal would force students to have permission from home before they can read a book that is banned in another school district in the state.

Gov. Kim Reynolds told conservative activists that with her school choice plan signed into law, she is shifting her attention to transparency rules in Iowa public schools.

After signing one of the nation’s broadest school choice laws, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she will continue pushing for new transparency rules in Iowa’s public schools, including a proposal that would cause a book challenge in one school district to effect schools statewide.

She made the comments Thursday night at a Des Moines town hall event organized by the conservative parents’ rights group Moms for Liberty that was attended largely by parent-activists and state lawmakers.

Local members of Moms for Liberty have backed efforts in the legislature to remove books they consider obscene from libraries and to restrict the way schools teach about systemic racism.

Reynolds said she stands behind their efforts.

“Thanks for speaking out, for your refusal to stand quietly by while we’ve seen the radical left treat our kids like their personal property,” Reynolds said. “Not on your watch. Not on my watch. Not on our watch.”

The organization’s co-founder Tina Descovich introduced Reynolds by saying the group’s motive is to improve, not undermine, public schools.

“We are supporters of public education. We love public education. But there are a lot of problems with public education,” Descovich said.

In her speech that followed, Reynolds painted public schools as institutions dominated by an “extreme and extremely loud minority” hostile toward conservative parents’ values. She said the vast majority of educators “are doing great work,” but also described teachers unions as a force at odds with parents’ interests.

“They think that patriotism is racist and pornographic library books are education,” Reynolds said. “They believe that the content of our character is less important than the color of our skin. They believe children should be encouraged to pick their gender, and parents — well, they’re just in the way. And they might be right about that.”

Several protesters interrupted Reynolds’ remarks including one person who held a transgender pride flag and shouted, “It’s my job to keep them safe.” The protesters were drowned out by Reynolds’ supporters and escorted out of the auditorium at the former Franklin Jr. High by Des Moines police.

In recent years, conservative parents have at times crowded school board meetings in communities across the state to protest mask mandates, to demand that libraries remove books they find obscene and to brand social emotional learning programs as vehicles for critical race theory.

Reynolds has incorporated that political movement into her own education agenda, signing laws that ban mask mandates in schools, limit how schools cover topics of racism and sexism, prohibit transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports and vastly expand school choice to include state-funded independent charter schools, unlimited open enrollment and tax-funded scholarships to pay for private school tuition.

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, speaks on a panel of Republican lawmakers at an event where parent-activists celebrated Iowa’s new school choice law and rallied for more parental control in public education.
Grant Gerlock
Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, speaks on a panel of Republican lawmakers at an event where parent-activists celebrated Iowa’s new school choice law and rallied for more parental control in public education.

Reynolds said she supports efforts to give individual families more influence over teachers and school boards.

“You’re fighting for the fundamental principle that parents are the primary decision-makers for their children,” she said.

Reynolds said she will introduce a school transparency bill that will encompass some things already advancing in the Iowa House and Senate.

It would bar teachers from including gender identity or sexual content in their lessons from kindergarten through third grade. A similar measure that goes through eighth grade is working through the Iowa Senate.

She said the bill will incorporate a proposal moving in the Iowa House that would require written consent from a parent before a school can agree to affirm a transgender student’s name or pronouns.

Reynolds also laid out a new proposal aimed at strengthening book challenges in schools. It would require that if a book is banned from one Iowa school system, students at every other district in the state would need a parent’s consent before they can read it.

In his remarks at the town hall, national school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis laid out how controversies over school curriculum have added wind to Reynolds’ political sails.

“It has become politically advantageous to support parental rights in education,” said DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children. “That’s why things have changed.”

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, commented before the event that she is concerned Reynolds is only listening to parents who share her political views.

“I hope that the governor is making time to hear from families from across the state about the issues and concerns they have with public education and she’s not just listening to special interest groups who come together to repeat the talking points that she’s been making, and to continue to be an echo chamber of things and ideas that she agrees with,” Konfrst said.

“If she’s going to meet with Moms for Liberty, let’s make sure she’s meeting with families from across the state that have different perspectives.”

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa