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House gets in heated debate over school start date bill

School-Education PhotoBy Bob Eschliman
Editor

 

The fight that brewed in the Iowa House of Representatives on Tuesday over a bill to amend the state’s official school start date wasn’t over what most observers might have expected.

The debate over Senate File 227, the substitute bill for House File 307, focused not so much on the official start date as much as it did on year-round schooling. Education Democrats, incensed that an amendment to allow high schools and whole school districts to adopt year-round calendars failed, lashed out.

Their target was the bill’s floor manager, state Rep. Greg Forristall (R-Macedonia).

During a particularly heated exchange, state Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) accused her southwest Iowa colleague of going back on a promise to open year-round calendars to high schools and whole school districts. When Forristall said he did not make that promise, she questioned his commitment to student achievement.

That, in turn, elicited a fiery response from Forristall.

“I want you to know that during the two years I was chair of Education, there were attempts to end the waiver process and to make the only start date for any school the week in which September 1st falls,” he said. “I killed two of those bills, and when it started to come out of another committee, I kicked it into the gutter again. And when it was offered on the House floor, as an amendment to a bill, I killed it again. So do not question my devotion to education.”

Democrats continually emphasized the need for local control throughout the debate over several amendments, as well as the bill itself. During his closing comments, Forristall said he could “probably come up with dozens” of bills that showed Democrats were all too often in favor of tighter regulation and more government growth.

The lone amendment that was adopted to SF 227 allows existing year-round elementary schools to continue to operate on year-round calendars, while other elementary attendance centers could apply to move to year-round schedules. An additional amendment to that amendment allowed school districts up to 30 days to decide on a year-round calendar for any specific attendance center.

Other Education Democrats complained that the allowable growth for the next two budget years had not yet been addressed by the General Assembly, as required by law. The House and Senate each adopted their own funding bills that allow 1.25- and 4-percent growth, respectively.

The first conference committee meeting on the bills was held Tuesday evening.

State Rep. Scott Ourth (D-Ackworth) said he was looking at SF 227 from the perspective of a large, active year-round school – Irving Elementary in Indianola – in his district. He said that school has had a year-round calendar for 20 years with “enormous success.”

Ourth said he first spoke with education stakeholders in his district, who said the proposed Aug. 23 start date was not their first choice, but they could work with it. He said he then approached business, tourism, and State Fair interests in his district, who echoed the sentiments of the school stakeholders.

For that reason, and in “the spirit of bipartisanship,” he said he would be supporting the bill. Many of his Democratic colleagues must have agreed, as SF 227 was adopted on a 71-29 vote.

CLICK HERE to see full video of the morning debate.