Common Good Iowa

Lawmakers fail on equity and opportunity for Iowa public school students

Posted on February 10, 2021 at 1:01 PM by Anne Discher

A House subcommittee approved an education bill Tuesday that would punish Iowa school districts by taking away funding if they use any parts of the 1619 Project curriculum. The New York Times’ 1619 Project was developed by Waterloo native Nikole Hannah-Jones to highlight of the central role slavery played in the founding of our nation and the critical contributions of Black Americans over generations.

This attempt to suppress a more inclusive telling of history — proposed during Black History Month, no less – mirrors bills in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and South Dakota, according to Barbara Rodriguez, writing in The 19th.

The Iowa House bill may not advance further. But it’s only one example — if among the more egregious — of how lawmakers are retreating from their commitment to giving every Iowa student a quality public education. Their worst impulses are aimed at our most marginalized students and schools.

On Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee debates an anti-transgender bill that would allow school districts to discriminate against trans students by stopping them from using the bathroom associated with their gender identity.

Any day now, the Senate is expected to approve, and the Governor to sign, the bill that would keep school districts from using diversity plans to guide open enrollment decisions. The bill would make it easier for white students in Des Moines, Waterloo, Davenport, Postville and West Liberty to leave for whiter districts.

The overall school funding packages currently moving through both the House and Senate (Supplemental State Aid) would be incredibly inadequate in the best of times. They are especially inadequate during a pandemic that has caused big enrollment drops in many districts and caused so many learning challenges for so many students.

And you can’t NOT notice that both houses specifically punish Des Moines for the caution its leaders showed about returning to in-person instruction. They would limit or entirely exclude the district from important one-time funding ostensibly tied to the extra costs of in-person learning. In essence, lawmakers would punish the very same students whose educations they claim to be so worried about.

Then there’s the voucher bill that would divert millions in public dollars to private schools. Vouchers take money directly away from public schools. Their proponents tout vouchers as a benefit for students of color, but we know from similar schemes around the U.S. they tend to do the most damage to public classrooms in Black and Brown communities, where administrators are forced to cut corners to balance a depleted budget.

It’s a lot. Maybe that’s the point — throw enough stuff against the wall and some of it will stick.

Let’s be clear: This is happening because those with power at the Capitol are comfortable telling Black kids that a version of history that centers their experiences isn’t valid, telling trans kids that their well-being isn’t important and their very identities are suspect, telling local leaders that if you stand up in good faith for public health you will be punished, and telling, well, every kid that your education isn’t that much of priority when stacked up against tax cuts. Unless you want to go to private school, and then they’ll see what they can do.

All of this makes this week a particularly good week to contact your legislator and tell them to stand up for public schools and every kid in them. Thank them if they already do. And then hold them accountable.

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