House passes controversial school ‘transparency’ and budget bills

Proposal requires teachers to post course materials online

By: - March 29, 2022 10:24 pm

Rep. Garrett Gobble spoke in the Iowa House March 29, 2022, on behalf of legislation requiring teachers to post course materials online. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The House passed two major education bills late Tuesday: a bill to require more transparency for classroom plans and materials and the proposed education budget for fiscal year 2023.

Education has been center stage through the 2022 legislative session, which began with controversy over Senate President Jake Chapman’s claims of a “sinister agenda” against children, outrage over certain books present in some Iowa schools, and a proposal to impose criminal penalties on teachers who share “obscene content.” Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed a major education bill to create private school scholarships and require strict transparency measures for schools.

The transparency bill passed Tuesday largely along party lines, but it was several steps removed from more controversial education bills from earlier in the session. Rep. Garrett Gobble, a middle school history teacher, said he believes the bill, House File 2577, would “turn down the temperature on rhetoric surrounding education discussions.”

“I hope a change like this will encourage parents to engage,” Gobble, R-Ankeny, said. “I’ve always wished I had an opening for parents to trust me, and I believe this is it.”

Both the transparency bill and the proposed education budget faced opposition from Democrats. Rep. Steven Hansen, D-Sioux City, said the bills were part of an “assault on public schools,” pointing toward a lack of funding and the early-session rhetoric from Chapman.

“Let’s quit using our public school students – both at the K-12 level and at the Regents universities – let’s quit using them as punching bags,” Hansen said.

The bills will move to the Senate for consideration.

Bill requires teachers to post course materials online

House File 2577 would require public school teachers to post their lesson plans and materials online for parents to review. The initial proposal by Gov. Kim Reynolds required teachers to post a list of all class materials for the year in two big batches: once at the beginning of the school year, and again at the end of winter break.

The House passed a new version of the bill Tuesday that allows teachers to update class materials on an ongoing basis to online services like Google Classroom or Canvas. Schools that fail to upload educational materials would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Jefferson, said parents have a “fundamental right to know what their children are being taught” and that many schools already implemented similar policies.

“These transparency requirements reflect the best practices being used across our state,” Thompson said. 

Democrats argued the new requirements would be an additional burden on teachers, who need to upload class materials online, and schools, which may need to create and manage new online sites to host the curricula.

“That’s going to take time away from learning,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, a former teacher. “And to me, the most important thing we can do is savor and save that time teachers have with their students.”

Gobble supported the bill. He said the new requirements would benefit students who miss class and would encourage more parents to be engaged in their child’s education. 

“It takes me approximately one minute to copy and paste materials to the learning software,” Gobble said.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, a former elementary school teacher, pushed back, arguing it would take “a lot more than a minute” to upload lesson plans for multiple subjects in an elementary school classroom.

The House passed the bill 60-36, with one Republican voting against and two Democrats voting in favor. 

What does this mean for the governor’s education bill?

House File 2577 originated from Reynolds’ 2022 education bill that also included a state-funded private school scholarship program. The governor’s plan would allow public school students to transfer to a private school and put some of their per-student allocation toward tuition.

The House declined to pass a similar proposal on private school scholarships last session. The governor’s proposal this year, which diverts some funding to rural schools, has not fared much better, never advancing to a full committee vote in the House.

But the governor’s full bill is on the move in the Senate, where it is expected to come up for floor debate Wednesday. 

House passes budget with extra school staff bonuses, no additional Regents money

After the House passed its transparency bill and the sun set over the Iowa Capitol, lawmakers moved on to another controversial proposal: the education budget.

The proposed budget, House File 2575, appropriates money for the Department of Education, the Board of Regents, workforce training programs and various scholarships through the College Student Aid Commission.

The bill introduces a new $12 million scholarship program to target the areas of highest need in Iowa’s workforce, including teachers. The program is designed to encourage students to major in high-demand careers and to work in Iowa after graduation.

The House also amended the budget to allow schools to provide a $1,000 bonus to staff. Reynolds announced in January that the state would use federal COVID-19 relief dollars to provide $1,000 retention bonuses to classroom teachers, but the program did not include other school staff members. The budget bill passed Tuesday would allow teachers and staff to subtract that payment from their net income when filing taxes.

“The education bill… has an emphasis on Iowans, along with Iowa students, with increases in many programs: loan repayment programs, tuition grants, funding for community colleges and (programs to) help address our mental health issues,” said Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun.

Democrats proposed a host of amendments to increase funding to various programs. All failed on the House floor. Rep. Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids, said the budget “isn’t horrible” but that the proposal lacked significant funding for several priorities, including the Board of Regents. 

Rep. Dave Williams, D-Cedar Falls, proposed what he called a “modest increase” of $12.3 million increase to the Regents universities, which have not received an increase to their state appropriation in several years. 

“We all share in investing in public education because the recipients of that education go on to have solid careers and start and raise families in a financially stable environment,” Williams said. “They help Iowa grow.”

Kerr said the $12 million workforce grant and incentive program took the place of additional Regents funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Although we may disagree on how to find our Regent universities, I believe funding the students is the proper way to go,” Kerr said.

Democrats responded that a lack of state funding to the Regents universities, lower wages and higher tuition would spur students to find work in other states, despite the new scholarship program.

“Not funding our Regent institutions forces our students to make decisions that move them out of state, or forces them to make decisions to go elsewhere, because other states are investing the resources that support their higher education goals,” Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said.

The House did not approve Williams’ amendment to increase the general fund appropriation for the Regents universities, with a vote of 37-57.

The overall education budget proposal passed in a bipartisan vote, 58-36. Two Democrats voted in favor, and two Republicans voted against.

What happened to the obscene materials debate?

The early weeks of the 2022 legislation session were dominated by discussion of “obscene content” in schools. Led by Senate President Jake Chapman, lawmakers proposed bills to create criminal penalties for teachers or schools that provide “pornography” to minors – a debate spurred largely by a handful of controversial books that included sexual content.

The original Senate bill stalled ahead of the second funnel. The House never took up similar legislation.

Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, introduced an amendment on the House bill to address pornographic materials in schools – an echo of the Senate proposal to punish “the few bad actors” who might provide obscene content to minors in a school. 

“Pornography is every bit as dangerous and lethal as tobacco, alcohol and drugs, yet we are going to allow it in the very place kids spend most of their day,” Salmon said. 

The amendment was ruled out of order after Kerr challenged its relevance to the bill. Salmon called for a procedural vote to consider the measure, which failed on a bipartisan basis, 90-3.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie 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.