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This week, Senate Republicans rushed two harmful public education bills through the Iowa Senate:

SF 159 would take taxpayer money intended for public schools and use it to pay for a new private school voucher program. This has the potential to cripple many Iowa school districts, especially those in our small towns and rural areas. After years of defunding public education by giving budget increases that don’t keep up with inflation—not to mention the additional challenges and expenses of the pandemic—this bill is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Our public schools—which educate more than 94% of Iowa students—must abide by clear guidelines, which provides transparency and oversight for your tax dollars. Under SF 159, non-public schools would get tax dollars with no obligation to modify their admissions process, allowing them to pick and choose which students they enroll. In addition, the bill would give state dollars to charter schools but exempt them from most state statutes, rules and local regulations applicable to public schools.

SF 160 requires schools to provide students an option for 100% in-person school 5 days/week. This could easily turn school days into super-spreader events in school buildings that do not have the capacity to social distance or provide a safe in-person learning environment. Everyone wants to see students back in the classroom, but we shouldn’t mandate in-person classes until it is safe and healthy for local educators, families and communities.

We should be sure that:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic is under control in the local community.
  • Widespread testing and contact tracing are available.
  • Schools can implement distancing and other public health measures that help keep the virus under control.
  • Vaccines have been offered to all adults working in school buildings.

During debate on this bill, I noted the failure of Governor Reynolds and legislative Republicans to help Iowa students, families, teachers, schools, despite the massive amount of resources the State of Iowa had and still has to help. See what I had to say.

Iowans who have had a chance to speak out on these two bills overwhelmingly oppose them. Earlier this week, almost 500 Iowans signed up for a Zoom town hall to share their concerns with legislators. If you missed it, you can see what parents and educators from throughout the state had to say at https://youtu.be/glA_ByVWRno.

In spite of widespread opposition, SF 159 and SF 160 were fast-tracked through the Iowa Senate in less than a week. SF 160 has already been signed into law by the Governor. SF 159 has been sent to the Iowa House. Please share your thoughts on this bill with your State Representative. You can find their contact information at www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find.

Author: Janet Petersen