A battle for parental rights in Iowa
The Iowa Legislature considers several bills this session that can make a positive impact for parental rights in education.
Should parents have the right to choose the educational path for their students and receive the funding to help make that choice?
Should parents be able to see what their students will be taught before it is taught?
Should parents have confidence their kindergarten-third grade students won't receive classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity?
Should parents be notified if their student(s) tell the school district they want to be identified as a gender that doesn't correspond to their biological sex?
Four bills in the Iowa Legislature address these questions, and I want to go through each one.
Universal School Choice
This legislation is bolder than the bill she introduced last year that capped the education savings account program. Since then, we have had an election that saw numerous school choice opponents lose their re-election bids.
The bill creates an Education Savings Account program that provides money in accounts for a cafeteria of qualified educational expenses outlined in the legislation but has first to be used for the tuition and fees in the nonpublic school their student is enrolled in before money is spent on any of the other options.
If passed, effective for the 2023-24 school year, per pupil funding will be $7,598 per student. Eligible students will include:
All kindergarten students
All public school students
Private school students with a household income at or below 300% FPL, $83,250 for a family of four
All kindergarten students
All public school students
Private school students with a household income at or below 400% FPL, $111,000 for a family of four
All K-12 students in Iowa, regardless of income
Also, public schools will retain approximately $1,202 per pupil in categorical funding for each student who attends private school. So they continue to receive funding for students they are not educating.
In its current form, this ESA program does not include homeschooling families. However, due to a bill Governor Reynolds signed into law in 2021, homeschoolers can now access the tuition and textbook tax credit which offers a credit of 25 percent of qualified educational expenses up to $2000 per dependent. That said, public and private school families can also access that tax credit. So I hope homeschooling families will be added to the ESA program later. While a homeschooling family's educational expenses are not as high, they often sacrifice potential income from one of the parents to homeschool. So in year three, homeschoolers must be included if "all" truly means "all."
That said, this is a good bill, and I'm unwilling to sacrifice the good for the perfect. Coupling this with other education reforms passed in the last few years will be universal school choice. Parents now have greater access to open enrollment in public schools, a charter school expansion, independent private instruction for homeschoolers, relaxing regulations for competent private instruction for homeschoolers, and the tax credit I mentioned previously.
If passed, Iowa will fund students, not systems, and parents will have a greater educational choice. It has passed in the Iowa Senate Education Committee and Iowa House Education Reform Committee.
Iowa House Republicans filed HF 5, which gives parents access to the resources provided to their children by their school.
It requires public schools (both traditional and charter) to make available for parents:
A course syllabus or written summary of the material taught in their students' classes,
explain how their student's classes meet or exceed the Iowa Academic Standards, and
provide a list of all instructional materials used in the student's classes by the teacher of record.
The bill also requires school districts to provide a comprehensive list of all books available to students in their school libraries and include a form requesting the removal of a book on their website.
The bill also requires school districts to provide information about the training and professional development their teachers and staff receive.
Right now, no group is registered as opposed to this bill because it's reasonable and gives a realistic timeframe for compliance. Parents have a right to know this information and should have a spelled-out process to request the removal of objectional material.
No Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation Instruction in K-3
Iowa House Republicans also introduced HF 8, a bill prohibiting gender identity/sexual orientation instruction by school personnel or third parties in kindergarten through third grade.
Florida is a model for this bill, but it is not identical to the law passed in Florida that was falsely dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Axios Des Moines also falsely called this bill Iowa's "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Here's what the legislation says: "A school district shall not provide any program, curriculum, material, test, survey, questionnaire, activity, announcement, promotion, or instruction of any kind relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade three."
This addresses formal classroom instruction. However, it does not preclude discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with fourth through twelfth graders as part of human growth and development classes that are "age-appropriate" and "research-based," which is already required and spelled out in state law.
The only change in the law is prohibiting this instruction for early elementary students. It does not forbid teachers from saying they are gay or require teachers to hide who they are married to. It does not prevent transgender teachers from teaching.
It simply prohibits formal instruction to young kids.
Why someone needs to discuss their sexual orientation or marriage to young kids is beyond me. When I was that age, I rarely knew my teacher's first name, and the only reason I knew my female teachers were married was because they went by "Mrs." rather than "Miss."
When I taught at a Christian school, I spoke very little about my personal life unless it pertained to the classroom material (which was more likely in the high school Bible classes I taught but never happened in my junior high history class).
Young kids don't need personal information about their teachers and certainly don't need instruction in gender identity or sexual orientation. And you have to question the motivations of those who believe young kids need this instruction.
HF 8 is a common sense bill, and anyone who calls it "Don't Say Gay" is lying to you.
Parental Notification on Gender Identity
Iowa House Republicans also filed HF 9, which requires school districts to notify parents about a student's requested gender transition or identity.
Simply, it states that school employees can't hide information about a student's requested gender transition or identity from the child's parents. Further, school employees cannot facilitate, encourage, or coerce students to withhold information from their parents.
This is a response to a school policy passed by the Linn-Mar School Board that says, "School staff should always check with the student first before contacting their parent/guardian. School staff should ask the student what name and pronouns they would like school officials to use in communications with their family."
So if a student wants to hide this from their family, the school district would be complicit. The Linn-Mar policy also states under FERPA that a parent of minor children has a right to review their records, but unless they know they need to look for this information, why would they request it?
Opponents state this bill will "forcibly out" kids to their parents. First, let me point out that these students have already outed themselves to their schools. There is no such thing as school-student confidentiality (even counselors where there is confidentiality have to have consent from a parent when counseling minors), and schools should not aid and abet kids hiding this from their parents. The idea that a school should know this information but a parent shouldn't is mind-boggling.
Second, I admit that it's unlikely this will come out of the blue for parents who are paying attention to what is happening in their kids' lives. Schools, however, shouldn't have a policy that puts them at odds with parents.
Schools have to get parental consent to provide Tylenol. Therefore, it makes sense that a school needs parental consent to alter school records to accommodate a student's requested change in gender identity.
Are there parents who would react negatively? Sure. But disagreement doesn't mean a parent is unsafe. If a teacher reasonably suspects abuse or neglect is happening in the home, they are already mandated reporters.
Disagreeing with the kids and denying a student's request isn't abuse or neglect.
Ironically, many of the same groups who disagree with the school choice bill oppose HF 8 and 9. If greater school choice is allowed, then perhaps this wouldn't be an issue at all. I will say the pro-school choice groups in Iowa have stayed away from the "culture war" bills which is smart. People want school choice for various reasons, and according to polling, supporters exist across the ideological spectrum. So why tie the school choice argument to a specific motivation for some parents?
I should also note that those who support gender identity and sexual orientation being taught in schools usually oppose religious proselytization in schools (free speech for me, but not for thee). If you want to teach kids gender identity and sexual orientation to young children (or rather proselytize kids according to your worldview), start an accredited nonpublic school. They are excluded from HF 8, and parents who want this can use their student's ESA to enroll in that school.
Methinks there won't be much of a market for this, which is why opponents want this in public schools.