Senate File 438 passed along party lines on Wednesday in the Iowa Senate. The bill will strengthen local control and allow school board members to make decisions in the best interest of the students they serve.
Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) offered a very simple question regarding the bill.
“The point of this bill comes down to one fundamental question — do we trust parents and teachers and administrators and school boards to do what is in the best interest of the children that they serve,” she asked. “Do we trust them? I do.”
She wondered if Democrats were intentionally misleading people about the bill or if they simply failed to read it.
“Everything you just heard has nothing to do with the contents of this bill,” she said as she opened her closing remarks. “It sounds to me like the only people some of us trust to make decisions for Iowans’ day-to-day lives is us. I don’t believe that. That is a fundamentally flawed belief.”
A couple amendments were added to the bill. Amendment S-3049 makes a technical change to the title of the bill to reflect changes made in committee. It also delays implementation for several sections to July 1, 2020, allowing the Department of Public Health time to put together the reporting process. It makes the reporting requirements for blood lead testing consistent with vision and dental. Reporting requirements for preschool are added back through the amendment as well. Since the Department of Education uses that data to apply for grants, it was a needed addition.
Amendment S-3055 to S-3049 also passed. That amendment allows the Department of Public Health to send schools the data on vision, dental and blood lead screenings for students if the district requests the information and the parents consent is given to the Department of Public Health. This allows schools to access student information they believe will be helpful, with the parents’ consent. But it removes the school’s responsibility of chasing the paperwork.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) spoke at length against the bill.
“This bill represents a clear and present danger to the health, welfare and education of our youngest students,” he said.
He focused his remarks on the changes in screening requirements. Quirmbach said the bill provides no means for ensuring compliance.
“Under the current system, parents have screenings done, the information is recorded to the local school. From there it’s passed on to the Department of Public Health,” Quirmbach said. “This is the most efficient way. The local schools are the people, the institutions who are best able to follow up to make sure that the screenings are done. The schools know who the kids are. The schools know who the parents and guardians are. The schools know how to contact the parents and guardians.
“I know that parents care for their kids, but some parents are negligent.”
He added that some parents may care for their kids and believe they’re responsible, but schedules make it difficult.
“There are a whole host of reasons that parents may not be able to complete the screenings or complete them timely,” Quirmbach said. “The schools need to be the ones to follow up.”
Then it became a bill that harms the poor, since students in low-income families are more likely to be exposed to lead poisoning.
Quirmbach said what’s proposed in the bill is parents still being required to do the screenings. The provider then is supposed to report this directly to the Department of Public Health. He asked how the Department of Public Health would follow up.
“Most egregious here is the fact this bill removes the requirement for schools to report to the Department of Public Health a list of kids who are enrolled in kindergarten,” Quirmbach said. “Under this bill the Department of Public Health won’t even know who they’re supposed to follow up with.”
His argument is the bill shifts power and responsibility away from local officials and centralizes power and responsibility to Des Moines.
“This has no chance of working,” he said. “I’m really befuddled as to why we’re looking at this. It increases cost, decreases efficiency and worst of all denies or makes it much more difficult for schools to get the information they need to help out these kids. It’s lose, lose, lose, lose all the way down the line.”
Sen. Liz Mathis (D-Hiawatha) focused on the health and human services aspect of the bill, saying Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks should know quite a bit about it.
“This bill, I think, looks at screening and testing as a transaction and not an integrated response to children’s health care,” Mathis said.
Paying for the bill, Mathis said, is another question. She also wondered how the idea of universal mental health screenings will be integrated into this.
Sen. Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines) said even though the idea is to allow local control to school boards, the Senate hasn’t been trending that way in the last three years. But now, she said, suddenly Republicans in the Senate care about having local control and they’re allowing local control while lowering the bar at the state level.
“This bill stinks to high heaven,” Celsi said. “This is basically the kitchen sink of all bad things that could happen to public schools.”
Schools are coming to the realization that students need these health screenings, Celsi said. And now the bill is encouraging them to go in the exact opposite direction.
“Why change the law?” she asked. “The only people that will suffer are the kids.”
Sinclair said it is an insult that Democrats believe school boards, administrators and teachers would some how intentionally allow students to be harmed.
“If I heard correctly, at one point some believe the parents would also intentionally choose to not do what’s in their child’s best interest,” she said. “It (was) suggested parents would actually withhold from teachers information that was for their child’s overall learning. That’s just not what this bill does and I don’t believe the parents, administrators, teachers and school boards in the state of Iowa would do that regardless of this bill.”
Sinclair noted the bill does not eliminate one requirement or one screening that children are subjected to in Iowa. It also doesn’t eliminate the requirement that data be shared to ensure screening occurs.
She addressed concerns on lead testing by saying it would be too late to stop the harm done.
“Frankly turning in a piece of paper to a child’s school when they’re six years old — the harm is done,” she said. “This proposed bill makes the process more efficient and provides flexibility to schools on how to best support parents obtaining screenings.”
Senate File 438 will help lessen the administrative burden placed on school districts.
“The aim of this bill is to put what should be local decisions back in the hands of school districts,” Sinclair said. “What medical information a parent provides to the school district about their child should be made by the parent. What cleaning product a school district, community college or regent university uses should be determined by the school district.
“It is time to give the responsibility of ensuring adequate attention is given to a student’s dental and vision needs back to the parent.”