The Iowa Capitol in springtime. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Voluntary diversity plans at Iowa schools would be nullified next academic year under a bill headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk.
The Iowa House agreed with the Senate’s changes to House File 228 on Tuesday afternoon. The bill would forbid school districts from implementing voluntary diversity plans that might refuse open enrollment for certain students.
Currently, five school districts in Iowa have voluntary diversity plans. In Des Moines, Davenport and Waterloo, public schools try to balance socioeconomic status among their pupils. In West Liberty and Postville, the districts look at how many English language learners are enrolled. So if, for example, a wealthy student at Des Moines Public Schools wanted to transfer to a school in Waukee or West Des Moines, the school district could prevent them from doing so.
The final version of the bill would take effect immediately upon enactment, allowing students from a district with a voluntary diversity plan to enroll in a new school district for the 2021 school year, despite a March 1 open enrollment deadline.
House Democrats argued that school districts had already certified 2021 budgets with current enrollment numbers. If students in those five districts choose to leave, the districts will have less state aid than anticipated.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimated that 361 students could leave Des Moines schools in the upcoming school year, if the bill is signed into law. That would be a loss of over $2.6 million from the district’s $578 million budget.
Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, said the loss would be minor for a large school district like DMPS.
“For Des Moines Public Schools, that is less than one-half of one percent,” Hite said, suggesting the district could cut back on administrative spending to make up the deficit.
Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, pointed to existing concerns with the Davenport Community School District, which is “conditionally accredited” pending improvements to its financial situation, student discipline and special education programs. Discontinuing the district’s voluntary diversity plans and allowing more students to transfer out of the district, she argued, could alter plans for the upcoming school year.
“(Allowing open enrollment) can significantly impact the budget that they have submitted to the state board of education,” Winckler said.
The LSA estimates that Davenport schools would lose nearly $700,000 in the 2021 school year if the voluntary diversity plan is discontinued.
The House voted 55-37 to pass the legislation.
“Our education should be about the kids,” Hite said, “And not about the school districts themselves.”
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