Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include comments from NICHE president Justin LaVan.
Due to a negotiation over school spending increases two years ago, Iowa now has some of the most open education freedom laws in the country. But a group of Democrats has offered a bill to remove many of those freedoms.
House File 214, offered earlier this week, would eliminate all of the changes made to “private instruction” – otherwise known as homeschooling – that were part of the negotiated settlement for more state funding to public schools in 2013. The bill would also repeal parent-taught driver education.
The bill is sponsored by state Reps. Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines), Bruce Bearinger (D-Oelwein), Jerry Kearns (D-Keokuk), Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City), Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City), and Cindy Winckler (D-Davenport). None have responded to requests for comment from The Iowa Statesman regarding the bill.
Justin LaVan, president of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, the largest homeschooling organization in Iowa, said it’s “not weird” for homeschool parents to enjoy the freedom afforded by the “independent private instruction.” IPI allows homeschool parents to educate their children without reporting or oversight by local school districts.
“Homeschool families in many states are not required to file any paperwork to start homeschooling and are not required to submit any type of year-end assessment,” he said. “These states include Texas, Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Missouri, Idaho, Michigan, Alaska, and Oklahoma.”
LaVan said the bill that created IPI in 2013 passed both chambers of the General Assembly with “strong bipartisan support.”
“Freedom is a bipartisan issue,” he added.
HF 214 would require that a parent, guardian, or legal custodian of a child of compulsory attendance age placed under “competent private instruction” – the legal definition of homeschooling in Iowa – submit to the school district of residence a report that states:
- the name and age of the child,
- the period of time the child has been or will be under competent private instruction,
- an outline of course study and texts used,
- the name and address of the instructor, and
- evidence of immunization.
The proposed legislation would also require the parent, guardian, or legal custodian to ensure that the child is evaluated annually, and to ensure that the results of the child’s annual evaluation are reported to the school districts. It thereby would eliminate all language that established the option for independent private instruction.
Steckman tried to get signatures for a similar bill last year. In doing so, she was famously overheard telling her colleagues she wanted to “repeal all of that homeschooling crap.”
HF 214 would also modify the definition of “competent private instruction” to include instruction by or under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or legal custodian. It would also repeal sections of Iowa Code that allow a parent, guardian, or legal custodian who is providing competent private instruction to a student to teach the student driver education provided the parent, guardian, or legal custodian has a valid driver’s license that permits unaccompanied driving and has a clear driving record for the previous two years.
Des Moines attorney Bill Gustoff, who played a role in getting many of the homeschooling reforms two years ago, said HF 214 is an effort by a small group of Democrats to renege on the promises made to get the public education funding they wanted.
“This is just an example of extreme educrats in the Iowa House who think the state should have a say in how we live from cradle to grave, pandering to the [Iowa State Education Association] and the anti-school choice crowd,” he said.
ISEA, the state’s largest teacher’s union, has not declared a position on the bill. Nor have any other lobbyist groups registered at the Iowa Statehouse.
Gustoff said HF 214 is likely “DOA” in the Iowa House, where Republicans hold a large majority, and bipartisan support for homeschooling exists. The bargain for additional school funding two years ago – particularly when Democrats are seeking more this year – will also play a role.
“Legislative Democrats made their bargain to get a massive infusion of new spending in their broken public education system in 2013, and homeschool freedom was a critical part of that bargain,” he said. “Now that they have pocketed their gains, this small sliver of them wants to renege on the deal legislative Republicans and Governor Branstad made with them in good faith.”
“All of the reliable evidence available supports the conclusion that homeschooling works, and that it works best when bureaucrats leave parents alone to do the job of educating their children,” Gustoff added.