Iowa legislators advance bill allowing for choice in school enrollment

Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 11:10 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - An Iowa bill approved by the state’s education committee may allow parents to have more options on where to send their kids to school.

Iowa bill 1065 was approved by the committee Monday to allow parents to open enroll their children into the school of their choice, even if it’s a charter school.

Five districts in Iowa, including Davenport, limit open enrollment out.

North Scott School District Superintendent Joe Stutting said, “The goal is to allow every family to take their money with them, which then will take away money from the public.”

He said he’s had a difficult time as a superintendent “watching the last seven years of very tight budgets where we can’t even afford increases to the current system, but yet now we want to add two more systems to be supported by the public tax dollar.”

Dr. Allison Beck, speaking not as a school board member but as a parent, said she feels that not putting a cap on open enrollment would only further the education gap between school districts, especially when charter schools have fewer restrictions placed by the state, like requiring special education and English as a Second Language program.

“One of the things I value the most about the schools is the diversity, and I appreciate that my son goes to school with children who don’t look like him and don’t come from families that are just like his. And so, if these programs go into effect or this bill passes, I worry that that’s going to change,” Dr. Beck said.

She goes on to say she believes only families “who have the time and the money” will be able to drive their children to other districts “and the ones who wouldn’t be able to choose that option are left behind,” emphasizing that will lead to “further segregation.”

Stutting believes the bill will really only benefit Iowans who live in larger cities who have various schooling options because charters will likely not start “in a county that’s so small that there’s hardly any population. They’re going to start in the cities.”

Beck added we might see smaller rural schools due to families choosing larger school districts.

Stutting said he believes North Scott school district may see a higher enrollment at first, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing in the long-run: “I would rather cooperate with our neighboring districts and not compete against them or compete against charters and try to convince families to come here because I look at what’s best for Scott County, what’s best for Iowa and that’s cooperation to enhance education for all kids.” He says programs with neighboring districts may not continue if this bill were passed.

“Public money belongs in public schools... I worry that by the time my middle-schooler gets to high school, there won’t be enough money in the district to support band, and theater, and sports. And I worry that by the time my youngest starts kindergarten, there won’t be a teacher-librarian or even a library, or art classes or music because of funding cuts. It really breaks my heart,” Beck said.

Davenport Superintendent T.J. Schneckloth said in a statement to TV6 that the proposed legislation could hurt the district “demographically, educationally and fiscally,” adding “the stability that we are working so hard to build within our district may be disrupted should the pending legislation pass.”

The bill is still on the Senate floor and has not been passed yet.

Read the full press from the Davenport Community School District release below:

As the superintendent of the Davenport Community School District, I wanted to share a few thoughts regarding the pending HSB64 legislation, which renders us incapable of carrying out voluntary diversity plans. Diversity plans do not abolish open enrollment out. Rather, they work to balance open enrollment out, to discourage economic departure. Not allowing a district to implement a voluntary diversity or desegregation could inflict a negative impact upon the DCSD demographically, educationally and fiscally. The current voluntary diversity policy is in effect for 5 districts within the State of Iowa, Davenport, Burlington, Des Moines, Waterloo and Postville.

Each year, Davenport Community School District offers voluntary transfers within our district. This ensures that students have a choice in which schools they wish to attend. However, analysis of open enrollment out requests show that they are slanted toward students from families with high socioeconomic status. If our ability to balance open enrollment requests is removed, we will become less diverse, with adverse socio-economic percentages. We are continually striving to improve the economic status of our school district and the community. We are proud of the efforts of our schools to place students on strong, reliable career paths – in such fields as manufacturing, engineering, computer science, health care, and more. The stability that we are working so hard to build within our district may be disrupted should the pending legislation pass.

Moving forward with HSB64 legislation will bring additional challenges in an already challenging time. However, our district team is confident in our ability to continue offering real-world demographics and experiences in the Davenport Community School District.

Thank you,

T.J. Schneckloth, Superintendent

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