Education bills making rounds in both chambers

Iowa CapitolBy Bob Eschliman


With the House and Senate already at odds over education funding for the next two years, a number of new education bills are making the rounds in the General Assembly.


House Bills

In the House, a wide array of bills has been offered in the past few days that aim to dramatically change education in the state. Many of them deal with Iowa Core and the assessment standards Iowa students may face as a result.

House File 241, offered by state Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City), would amend the compulsory education laws to require students to attend school until they are 18 years old. Currently, the compulsory attendance age is 16 in Iowa.

A similar bill was offered by the Senate Education Committee, chaired by state Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), who has championed the bill as a means to prevent dropouts. HF 241 has been referred to the House Education Committee.

House File 269, offered by state Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids), would alter the “indicators” that must be assessed by Iowa schools in the fourth, eighth, and 11th grades. Currently, only math, science, and reading are assessed.

The bill would add writing and social studies to the testing indicators for all three grade levels. Currently, students at all three levels are assessed in math and reading, while students in grades 8 and 11 are assessed in science.

HF 269 has been referred to the House Education Committee, but has not received a subcommittee assignment.

House Republicans have offered a trio of bills related to Iowa Core that vary in the degree to which they would alter or remove “common core” provisions from Iowa law.

House File 271 modifies the required core curriculum and 21st century learning skills and knowledge the Iowa Board of Education is required to address. It would add music, visual art, drama and theatre, and “other fine and applied arts” to those requirements.

Currently, the required core curriculum includes English or language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. The proposed legislation requires IDOE to employ a consultant to oversee the development of and compliance and to provide guidance for professional development programs, strategies, and materials.

House File 272 eliminates requirements and references to the Iowa Core curriculum and to core content standards, but continues to direct the Iowa Board of Education to adopt high school graduation requirements and assessment standards. It prohibits the IDOE from adopting and implementing statewide core curriculum standards.

“However, schools are strongly encouraged to set high expectations in locally developed core content standards and are also encouraged to include in locally developed standards 21st century skills,” the bill’s explanatory statement reads. “The bill also directs the state board of education to adopt rules prohibiting the department of education from adopting and implementing the next generation science standards as developed by the national research council and cooperating states.”

Currently, school districts are required to work with eighth grade students to develop “core curriculum plans” to meet Iowa Core requirements. Those provisions are amended by HF 272 to refer instead to “graduation plans” and “high school graduation requirements.”

State “assessment standards” would remain applicable to all K-12 students in every school district and accredited non-public school under the proposed legislation.

House File 273 includes many of the provisions of HF 272, but adds that the IBOE may not make changes to the state assessment standards based on changes in federal law or regulations. It also makes use of the academic standards by school districts and accredited nonpublic schools voluntary.

House File 274, offered by state Rep. Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr), would require all public and accredited non-public elementary schools to offer all-day kindergarten. It does so by making kindergarten programs offered by school districts subject to the minimum school day and instructional requirements that currently apply to grades 1-12.

Currently, school districts can use half-day or alternating-day kindergarten programs to reduce staffing. In those instances, each student still counts as a full-equivalent student for funding purposes.

HF 274 has been referred to the House Education Committee, and has been subsequently forwarded to a subcommittee that Dolecheck chairs.

House File 275, offered by state Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines), would allow non-instructional, non-research, and non-principal administrative employees of educational institutions to be eligible for unemployment benefits during the weeks they do not work in between terms and in between the end of one academic year and the start of the next.

The proposed legislation would also apply to employees who are “reasonably assured” of returning to their regular employment once classes begin. In the event the employee does not return to employment, unemployment benefits would be retroactive to the last day of the previous term or academic year.

House File 290, offered by Mascher, would require the integration of lessons and tools relating to local foods and farm-to-school programs into Iowa Core curricula. Local school districts, and accredited nonpublic schools would also be required to integrate them into their curricula.

The proposed legislation’s explanatory statement says the goal of HF 290 is to “engage students in thinking and learning about local food advantages, agriculture, and nutrition.”

House File 297, offered by state Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines (D-Des Moines), would require the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners to include “cultural competency” as one of six units teacher licensees must obtain prior to renewal of their licenses. The bill defines cultural competency as “awareness and understanding of the values, lifestyles, history, and contributions of various identifiable cultural groups in society; recognizing and dealing with dehumanizing biases such as sexism, racism, prejudice, and discrimination and raising awareness of the impact that such biases have on interpersonal relations; recognizing the ways in which dehumanizing biases may be reflected in instructional materials; and acquiring strategies to manage students from different cultures in a 30 classroom setting.”

HF 297 has been referred to the House Education Committee, but has not been referred to any subcommittee.

House Study Bill 135 would require local school boards to publish the contact information of individual board members on their district websites. The contact information must also be updated annually under the proposed legislation.

The bill was proposed by House State Government Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Guy Vander Linden (R-Oskaloosa).


Senate Bills

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans have offered a trio of bills to make it easier for parents to exert educational choice for their children, one of which would significantly alter state government. Democrats have a bill of their own to extend the sunset date for the state’s one-cent sales tax that provides funding to public preK-12 school districts.

Senate File 240, sponsored by all 24 Senate Republicans, and an identical bill – SF 252 offered by state Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) – would create education savings grants for the parents of students who attend accredited non-public schools and homeschool parents who take part in competent private instruction. Education savings grants are equal to the average regular program state foundation aid per student in the same school year.

Homeschool parents who are dual enrolled, or who take part in individual private instruction, are not included in the proposed legislation. The grants may be used for “qualified educational expenses,” but not tuition in excess of the regular program state cost per student for the same school year.

Funds are held in individual accounts for each student, and unused funds are held over for future school years, as well as for post-secondary education expenses. See more about this issue by clicking here.

Senate File 255, offered by Senate Democrats, seeks to extend the one-cent Secure an Advanced Vision for Education sales tax until Jan. 1, 2050. Other bills offered in the General Assembly have proposed 10-year extensions, or to eliminate the sunset altogether.

Currently, the SAVE sales excise tax – which replaced School Infrastructure Local Option sales taxes adopted in each county – is set to expire Dec. 31, 2029. SF 255 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Senate File 230, offered by state Sens. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) and Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) creates education savings grants while also doing away with the Iowa Department of Education altogether. The bill would transfer the duties of the department to a number of state and local entities.

The proposed legislation has been referred to the Senate Education Committee and to a subcommittee comprised of the three ranking members: chairman Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), vice chairman Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville), and Zaun, who is the Republican ranking member of the Education Committee.