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Education Freedom Advanced in House Education Bill

The Iowa House passed Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform bill (HF 215) with amendments.  I liveblogged during the debate on Tuesday night.  I wanted to share my thoughts about the bill as it stands now.

There were five excellent amendments that were offered and passed that made this bill, while still far from perfect, far, far better.

  1. Homeschooling parents are not required to have their child assessed, and if I am reading this amendment correctly, it looks like a supervisory teacher or portfolio are no longer necessary either as those are the options given under Iowa law.  The key change can be seen with this statement – “A parent, guardian, or legal custodian of a child of compulsory attendance age providing competent private instruction to the child shall may meet all of the following requirements.”  Changing “shall” to “may” changes the options mandated for homeschooling families to something that is optional.  Kudos to State Representative Matt Windschitl for introducing this amendment.
  2. Independent accreditation for non-public schools.   State Representative Cecil Dolecheck introduced this amendment.  Currently in Iowa the only accreditation that is recognized by the Iowa Department of Education is the state accreditation that they do for non-public schools.  Being accredited allows a non-public school to benefit from the school tuition organizations (people who donate get tax credits), transportation reimbursement, textbook reimbursement fund for non-religious text books, AEA support (cost sharing for media, professional developed, etc.) and for marketing purposes.  Saying you are accredited obviously sounds more attractive for parents than not.  Anyway, this bill allows schools to be accredited by say the Association of Christian Schools International and still receive those benefits.  Schools also will likely not have formally adopt the Iowa Core or Common Core State Standards (though they’ll still be impacted by standardized testing) unless their accrediting body expects that.
  3. Local school districts are given “home rule.” – State Representative Josh Byrnes introduced this amendment.  This is the only time last night that I heard local control brought up and it warmed my heart.  The key section reads, “The board of directors of a school district shall operate, control, and supervise all public schools located within its district boundaries and may exercise any broad and implied power related to the operation, control, and supervision of those public schools except as expressly prohibited or prescribed by the Constitution of the State of Iowa or by statute.”  It doesn’t allow a school board to levy a tax not authorized by the Iowa Legislature, however, it does allow schools that want to be innovative to make changes without having to seek approval from the Iowa Department of Education (unless the change is already prohibited by state law).
  4. Bye, bye Competent Private Instruction formsThis amendment offered by State Representative Cecil Dolecheck basically states that homeschooling families no longer need to report their intent to homeschool to their local school district.  Current state law states that families who want to have their kids receive instruction outside of their local school or accredited nonpublic school needs to complete a “Competent Private Instruction” (CPI) form and turn it into their local school district office.  Homeschooling families, mine included, would rather tell our local school districts to buzz off because it is none of their business.
  5. Homeschool Drivers’ EducationThis amendment offered by State Representative Windschitl allows a homeschool parent to teach their children driver’s education.  For most of us in the homeschooling community it seemed nonsensical that we would be entrusted to teach our children subjects like Math and English, but couldn’t teach them to drive?  Windschitl mentioned in his remarks that in some school districts it has been difficult for homeschooling families to even get into a driver’s education program.  Those of us who have had to go to a for-profit entity for drivers’ education have incurred a major expense.  This is simply common sense and for some reason it received the most debate from the Democratic caucus which I found odd.

I’m not holding my breath that all of these amendments will get passed by the Iowa Senate, but some may or at the very least be approved in a conference committee between the House and the Senate when they are working out differences between their two bills.  I’ve been told that the Governor’s office has said that Governor Branstad would sign a bill that included all of the above so the primary obstacle is the Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

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