Iowa governor pushes education bill as way out of ‘failing schools’

34 schools in 19 districts across Iowa fall into a low performing category by federal stands.
Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 10:06 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - 34 schools in 19 districts across Iowa fall into a low performing category by federal stands. An education bill backed by Gov. Kim Reynolds would help students in those schools enroll in other districts.

The bill, which already passed in the Iowa Senate, would loosen open enrollment restrictions for students and create scholarships students can use to enroll in private or charter schools.

The ‘Student First Scholarships’ would become available to students in those 34 school buildings placed in the comprehensive category under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Three of those schools are within the Burlington Community School District. Four are within the Davenport Community School District.

“We’re making great progress. In our last progress report we are definitely moving in the right direction and we need to keep doing that. There isn’t anything that the department of education is asking us to do that’s not good for kids. So we need to focus on that because it is good for our students and families and community,” TJ Schneckloth, Superintendent of the Davenport Community School District, said.

According to the state’s Legislative Services Agency, the scholarships would create a $2.1 million dollar loss to public school funding in 2023. That number increases to $3 million in 2024 and $3.8 million in 2025.

In an interview with Quad Cities Today on Friday, Gov. Reynolds was asked about impacts the bill could have on districts with struggling schools.

“What’s the plan to help districts, like Davenport, with funding they may lose if this bill is passed?” TV6 Anchor Talya Faggart asked.

“Yeah. Actually I made it very clear that it’s imperative and critical that we have a strong public school system. And we do. It’s the foundation of our state,” Gov. Reynolds responded, “But the fact of it if kids are trapped in a failing school, they shouldn’t be trapped because they don’t have the financial means to do something different. That’s not fair. It’s a small number. And I believe parents should have the right to be able to do that.”

In a statement to TV6 on Monday, a spokesperson for Gov. Reynold’s office said:

“The governor supports all public schools, and every year has increased funding for PreK-12 education. These 34 school districts receive significant amounts of support and funding from both the state and federal government and 32 of these 34 school districts have been on this list since 2018. The Students First Act helps the students who may be stuck in one of those schools simply because they may not have the financial means to go somewhere else.” - Pat Garrett, spokesman for the governor’s office.

The superintendent of Davenport Community School District defended the district, saying although some areas need improvement, the district offers a great education.

“We have wonderful programs that are leading in the state. I’ll tell you that right now. Since 2013, 2014 we’ve had 200 students graduate with an associate degree. We are leaders with CTE programming. We have apprenticeships. We currently have students that are working towards apprenticeships at John Deere. We have wonderful things that are happening inside our district,” Schneckloth said.

According to a spokesperson for the state’s Dept. of Education:

Schools that are identified as Comprehensive receive additional federal funds that can be used for professional learning and other activities to help them implement their improvement plans. They also receive three years of support from the Iowa Department of Education and Area Education Agencies to improve. This includes help identifying the causes of performance issues, strategies and interventions to put in place, and evaluation of what is working. Regional training sessions, district site visits, data reviews, action planning and monthly or quarterly check-ins are also provided to ensure they are on track.

The bill passed the Iowa Senate 26 to 21. Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it. The House has not yet voted.

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