Senator Jack Whitver: Educating Iowa’s Children

Providing Iowa students with a world-class education to prepare them for the future continues to be a priority of mine.  This week in the Iowa Senate we approved two bills to provide Iowa families with options to choose the education that fits their child.

The first bill, Senate File 160, gives parents an option to send their children full-time to school safely. Students need to prepare for whatever lies ahead of them, to recover the ground they have lost over the last 9 months and to restore their future career opportunities. Getting children back in schools is not a one-sized-fits-all scenario, but since school year started last fall, this critical option for families has been missing. This bill, which was signed into law today by Governor Reynolds also maintains the option for parents who wish to choose full-time remote learning.

Requiring a full-time, in-person learning option for Iowa students helps to address some of the struggles I know many Iowa parents have been experiencing. I have heard from parents managing the difficulties of finding or being able to afford child-care for their children who cannot be left alone all day, the challenges of working from home while balancing both their job and children, and the weariness of dealing with this stress month after month.

Over the past year many Iowa schools have worked extremely hard during a difficult time to educate our kids. Some schools on the other hand, have failed our kids.

One thing is evident from this past year – parents and students need more options when it comes to education.  That choice may be open enrollment to another public school, it may be a public charter school, it may be to have their kids in school 5 days per week, or it may be to leave one of Iowa’s 34 failing school buildings for whatever option fits them best.

Yesterday, in the Iowa Senate we approved Senate File 159, which helps provide these choices to Iowa families.   This legislation creates Student First Scholarships which are narrowly tailored opportunities for students in failing schools to have an option to attend nonpublic schools.  Currently, this would impact only 34 school buildings (not districts) in Iowa.

This bill will eliminate the voluntary diversity plans to ensure open enrollment for all Iowa children, no matter where they live.  It also makes changes to Iowa’s Charter School law to provide for more accountability.  Senate File 159 will put more money in the hands of Iowa families and teachers by increasing the tuition and textbook tax credit and allows elementary and secondary school teachers to deduct the cost of certain expenses.

This bill does not take money away from Iowa K-12 schools.  In fact, over the next couple of weeks we will be discussing another increase to the level of supplemental state aid for Iowa K-12 public schools.

I fully understand the importance of K-12 education and I have three children in Iowa’s public schools.  This bill will just allow for more flexibility for Iowa families to be able to make the best choice in education for their family.  It is important to Iowa’s future that we ensure all of our schools, both public and non-public, are meeting the needs of all the students and families regardless of background, location or circumstances.

Whatever choice parents makes for their children, we must ensure that Iowa students do not continue to fall behind. We simply cannot let a generation of kids fall behind in school.