Join the battle for the soul of public education in Iowa

State Senator Claire Celsi sounds the alarm about a horrible bill that would benefit school administrators but would be very bad for Iowa children. -promoted by Laura Belin

The 2019 legislative session started off with a whimper as Republicans approved inadequate public education funding once again. Governor Kim Reynolds’ 2.3 percent budget request for K-12 funding was meet with an even less impressive proposal in the House and Senate – 2.06 percent. The House and Senate Democrats and Iowa State Education Association all suggested 3.0 percent and were voted down in short order.

Let me be clear: 2.06 percent is below the rate of inflation and not adequate. The result will be more layoffs, program cuts and more desperation to make ends meet in school districts all over the state.

Some Republicans were praised by the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) and some of its supporters. Do not be fooled. They were simply wrong. The vast majority of schools are still woefully underfunded and to compensate, they are simply raising their tax levy on local residents. School costs go up every year – salaries, healthcare, supplies, vendor services. These things are not free. Vendors raise their prices. Teachers deserve raises. Unfunded mandates must be implemented. This is not magic, people. These things take money.

Last Thursday, I was sitting at my desk in the Iowa Senate, cleaning up a pile of papers and packing up my briefcase for home. Then Senate Study Bill 1190 came across my desk. I call it the Horrible School Omnibus bill. Because that’s what it is. And it has the Iowa Association of School Boards and the School Administrators of Iowa written all over it. The Senate sponsor is Republican Amy Sinclair, the darling of IASB, chair of the Education Committee, and friend of former State Representative Walt Rogers (the guy who introduced vouchers in the 2018 session, was defeated for re-election to the House, and is now running for Senate District 30).

Schools serve as a critical partner in ensuring students are healthy and ready to learn. When students are identified who may have barriers to learning, it is important to link students and their parents or guardians with available services to provide the best opportunity for the student to succeed. In Iowa, there are four health screening programs regulated by the state and implemented by the schools: immunization, dental, vision and blood lead levels.

In 2018 – IASB asked for and Senate File 475 originally tried to completely remove the health screenings requirement for students to attend school. Instead, in the final version, a work group was to be formed to study the issues of dental and vision screenings, blood lead testing, and immunizations. All of these appear again in this bill. So far, the only groups registered in favor of the bill are IASB, School Administrators of Iowa, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, and Urban Education Network of Iowa.

Here are some of the lowlights:

  • The bill strikes the requirement that each school district shall have a
    school nurse to provide health services to students. Since the bill strikes the nurse requirement – it also removes language that districts should work toward a goal of having one school nurse for every 750 students.
  • The bill strikes the requirement that each school district have a teacher-librarian (in effect since 2006). The Des Moines school district has only ONE teacher librarian for the entire district right now – and dozens of school libraries are staffed by other teachers and sometimes assistants who are not trained in library science.
  • The bill strikes requirements that school districts conduct an evaluation regarding implementation of an environmentally preferable cleaning policy – and if it makes sense, use less harmful cleaning products. It strikes the requirement JUST for schools – which is shocking. Here is what is currently required:

    Use of environmentally preferable cleaning and maintenance products.
 a. All school districts in this state, community colleges, institutions under the control of the state board of regents, and state agencies utilizing state buildings, are encouraged to conform to an environmentally preferable cleaning policy designed to facilitate the purchase and use of environmentally preferable cleaning and maintenance products for purposes of public school, community college, regents institution, and state building cleaning and maintenance.

  • The bill strikes a provision requiring school boards to have rules regulating the loading and unloading of pupils from a school bus stopped on the highway during inclement weather.
  • Who would put together such a horrible compilation of crap, you ask? My money is on Emily Piper of the Iowa Association of School Boards. I cannot imagine one legitimate school administration official or elected school board member trying to propose or defend this bill. How exactly do you look the parent of a child in the eye and say, “I care less about the health and safety of your child now than I did last year.”

    Apparently, Sinclair has no problem standing up for this absolute abomination.

    How can you help? Email the Senate Education committee and tell them to vote no on this bill. It’s time for your voices to be heard. Here is a link to all their names and email addresses.

    Do it now – this bill will move fast. At a time when kids are more in need of supportive services than ever – we need to help school do more for at-risk students – not less.

    State Senator Claire Celsi
    District 21

    Editor’s note: House File 306 increased state funding for K-12 schools for the 2019/2020 academic year by 2.06 percent. The roll call votes on the bill and Democratic amendments are available in the House and Senate journals.

    UPDATE by Laura Belin: A subcommittee led by Sinclair moved Senate Study Bill 1190 on February 26, and the full Education Committee approved it along party lines on February 27. However, after being deluged with e-mails and phone calls, Republicans amended the bill to remove language dropping the requirement for school districts to have at least one nurse and one librarian. The Senate Democrats noted, “Unfortunately, Republicans did not also protect school-based dental, vision and wellness checks. That means SSB 1109 is still another step towards limiting an Iowa child’s opportunities by where he or she happens to live.”

    Many groups are lobbying against this bill. The Iowa Catholic Conference was the only new organization to sign on in support of the bill this week.

    Top image: Senator Claire Celsi protesting the signing of the 2.06 percent State Supplemental Aid bill in the Capitol rotunda on Feb 19, 2019. Photo by Senate Democratic caucus staff, used with permission.

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    • Nice photo!

      But when a rural school drops to the point that it has already sent its secondary students elsewhere and it has only 150 or so students left, it cannot justify a librarian. It may not be able to justify a nurse unless the nurse is also able to do something else for the school. I see this bill as a band aid to stop the bleeding of small schools who are not allowed to spend enough to meet requirements that we did not even have when I went to school.
      If you want to help, amend the bill so that only larger schools are required to have some staff positions. Remember: it’s a long bus ride to the next school. That has disadvantages, too. We can do without a librarian!