Several controversial education bills to survive legislative deadline

Schools will be required to offer 100% in-person classes to students who want them under legislation approved Jan. 28, 2021. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Senate Education Committee moved seven bills Tuesday, including a contentious “divisive concepts” ban, keeping them viable ahead of this week’s legislative deadline.

Most bills, except those dealing with the state budget or taxes, are subject to this week’s second “funnel” deadline. That means they must pass either the House or Senate and make it through committee in the other chamber.

The Senate Education Committee will meet once more on Thursday to allow a few more bills to squeak through. 

Here are the education bills that moved in Tuesday’s meeting.

Divisive concepts: House File 802 defines “divisive concepts” that cannot be taught as part of any government diversity training or a K-12 school curriculum. Those include the ideas that:

  • An individual would be responsible for the actions of other people of their race or sex;
  • An individual is inherently racist or sexist, consciously or unconsciously, due to their race or sex;
  • The U.S. and Iowa are inherently or systemically racist.

The House and Senate have volleyed the bill between chambers. The House split the Senate’s initial proposal into two bills, then added language to expand the scope of the divisive concepts ban. The bill now includes state and local government training and K-12 curriculum, whereas it initially applied only to mandatory school training.

“It should be appalling and absurd to assume that any person because of their race or because of their sex are inherently good or bad,” Education chairwoman Sen. Amy Sinclair said. “That is, by its very definition, it’s racism and it’s sexism.”

Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she plans to propose a significant amendment on the Senate floor. Democrats in the Education Committee said the bill was “a disaster.” 

First Amendment training: The other half of the Senate’s initial school training proposal lives on in House File 744. This bill would require First Amendment training at Iowa schools and provide penalties for staff members who infringe on student free speech.

The Senate Education Committee filed an amendment to reintroduce restrictions on student governments that limit free speech and to provide guidance for student newspapers.

Five-year-old students in preschool. The Education Committee voted unanimously to approve House File 318, a bill to allow some 5-year-olds to enroll in preschool instead of kindergarten.

The Education Committee also voted unanimously Tuesday to move several other bills.

  • House File 602 allows schools to use general funds for extracurricular activities.
  • House File 644 makes technical changes related to the college student aid commission.
  • House File 770 would allow professional development to count toward license renewal for educators.
  • House File 793 excuses JROTC students from physical education classes.

Some education proposals are still working through the process. Most notable is House File 813, a bill that would create new charter school pathways in Iowa. Education lobbyists spoke against the proposal in a Tuesday afternoon subcommittee meeting and asked for amendments that would impose more restrictions on charter schools.

The Education Committee will also consider on Thursday legislation on medical residency and one-time funding for K-12 schools.

Katie Akin
Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.