# Education



Iowa House speaker not looking for AEA funding fix

House Speaker Pat Grassley speaks to reporters on April 11 (photo by Laura Belin)

Iowa House Republicans are unlikely to push for changing the new state law on services currently provided by Area Education Agencies (AEA), House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated in his latest public comments on the topic.

While some GOP lawmakers are concerned about a provision that could divert tens of millions of dollars from the AEA system, Grassley told reporters on April 11 that giving school districts more control over media and education services funding was consistent with the bill’s original purpose.

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They've done enough damage

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

It’s after midnight. You’ve yawned and stretched. You’ve heard the same story twice. There’s no move to leave. They’ve settled in. Your yawns become deeper, and more obvious. 

Still, they linger.

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Governor's summer meal grants amount to "crumbs for Iowa kids"

Free summer meal provided by the Cedar Rapids Community School District in June 2023. Photo originally published on the school district’s Facebook page.

Governor Kim Reynolds asked state legislators this year to “join me in making literacy a top priority in every Iowa classroom.”

Judging by her approach to feeding hungry kids, the governor appears to lack basic numeracy skills.

On April 10, the governor’s office and Iowa Department of Education announced “$900,000 in competitive grants to help more Iowa children and teens access nutritious meals and snacks during the summer months.” Those federal funds, which Reynolds is drawing from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, may help a few thousand more kids receive food while school is out.

But in December, Reynolds turned down $29 million in federal funding—more than 30 times the value of the new grants. Those funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program would have provided food assistance worth $120 to each of an estimated 240,000 Iowa children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

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This AEA direct service provider has many unanswered questions

Photo of speech therapist working with child is by Ground Picture, available via Shutterstock

Kerri Schwemm has been employed as an AEA speech-language pathologist for 27 years. After the Iowa House approved the final version of the AEA bill, but before that version came to a vote in the Iowa Senate, she posed the questions enclosed below in bold to state legislators who represent portions of the Southeast Polk school district, where she lives and works: Republican State Representatives Jon Dunwell, Barb Kniff McCulla, Bill Gustoff, and Brian Lohse, and Republican State Senators Jack Whitver and Ken Rozenboom. She also posted her questions on the social media feeds of some GOP lawmakers who were involved in negotiating the AEA bill: State Representatives Skyler Wheeler and Chad Ingels, and State Senator Lynn Evans.

Continuous improvement, change, reform. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been part of the educational landscape forever. In fact, for the 27 years I’ve worked for the Area Education Agencies (AEA) system, I have seen this system continuously improve, change, and reform their practice. These necessary components of education happen through a process of evidence gathering, collaborative input, and thoughtful decision making.

Key state legislators who worked on the AEA bill gathered some evidence and received lots of public feedback, but thoughtful decision-making was lacking. For any of them to claim nothing will change with AEA services reflects ignorance.

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"Take time to read this bill": House Dem flagged AEA funding "oversight"

Barely a week after Governor Kim Reynolds signed an overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, House Republicans are looking for ways to change the law’s provisions on media and education services funding, State Representative Brent Siegrist confirmed on April 4.

Siegrist was among the House Republicans who worked closely on House File 2612, having previously served as executive director of the AEA system. He described the language giving school districts the ability to divert funding from media and education services as “just an oversight.”

He and his colleagues should have listened more carefully during the March 21 debate. Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman flagged this very problem, despite having little time to review the 49-page amendment Republicans rushed to pass.

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Why this school psychologist is leaving Iowa

Amy Endle began her career in Iowa and has been a school psychologist with an Area Education Agency since 2012. She emailed the message enclosed below to all members of the Iowa House and Senate on March 23.

Dear Iowa Legislators 

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to inform you of my family’s difficult decision to leave Iowa after 12 years of residency and return to our native Wisconsin. I have proudly served Iowa children, parents, and schools as a school psychologist since moving to Iowa in 2012. 

This decision was not made lightly and is driven by concerns directly impacting our livelihood and the educational future of our 3 children. The core reason for our departure stems from the increasing insecurity surrounding the sustainability of a gutted Area Education Agency (AEA) system. The knee-jerk decisions passed by legislators more interested in pleasing the governor than serving children in Iowa have not only affected the professional stability of highly trained education specialists, but have also cast a shadow over my family’s future in Iowa.

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A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

There’s a beloved children’s book titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and it gets worse from there. 

After Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech on January 9, Area Education Agencies woke up with gum in their hair and it became a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.”

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Iowa House GOP's "big wins" won't avert big problems for AEAs

Representative Skyler Wheeler floor manages the AEA bill on March 21 (photo by Laura Belin)

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate approved the final House version of this bill on March 26, and the governor signed House file 2612 the following day. Original post follows.

Iowa House leaders attempted to wrap up work last week on the thorniest issue of the 2024 session: overhauling the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to comply with Governor Kim Reynolds’ demand for “transformational change.” Less than three hours after a 49-page amendment appeared on the legislature’s website on March 21, the majority party cut off debate and approved a new version of House File 2612 by 51 votes to 43.

State Representative Skyler Wheeler hailed many provisions of the revised AEA bill as “wins” for House Republicans during the floor debate. House Speaker Pat Grassley likewise celebrated “big wins in this legislation” in the March 22 edition of his email newsletter.

Nine Republicans—Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Martin Graber, Tom Jeneary, Brian Lohse, Gary Mohr, Ray Sorensen, and Charley Thomson—didn’t buy into the official narrative and voted with Democrats against the bill.

I doubt any of them will regret that choice. If House File 2612 becomes law, it could irreparably harm the AEAs’ ability to provide a full range of services to children, families, educators, and schools.

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No, the feds are not threatening to take over special education in Iowa

State Senator Lynn Evans speaks in the Iowa Senate on March 18.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this message to all 150 Iowa legislators on March 20. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to Area Education Agencies are available here, here, and here.

Open letter to Iowa Legislators:

I am David Tilly. I was Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. I oversaw the Division of PK-12, which encompasses special education responsibility and oversight in Iowa. I am writing today to address a rumor that appears to be circulating about the AEA bills. Specifically that the Iowa Department of Education must be given both more authority and more compliance resources over special education or the “feds” might come in and “take us over.” This statement is patently false. That is not how Federal Special Education Monitoring of states works. The Iowa Department of Education currently has all of the monetary resources and authority necessary to effectively monitor special education in Iowa.

Please excuse the long-detailed email, but it’s important to set the record straight.

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Iowa superintendents sound alarm about AEA changes

Superintendents from more than 30 Iowa school districts warned state legislators on March 17 that major changes to Area Education Agencies (AEAs) “will have grave consequences for the students we serve.”

In a message enclosed in full below and available here (pdf), the superintendents told lawmakers they “are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the AEAs, especially the shift towards a ‘Fee-for-Service’ approach.” They highlighted the value of the existing AEA model, particularly for rural school districts that “rely heavily on AEAs for critical support.”

Caleb Bonjour, superintendent of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District, told lawmakers that those who signed are a “non-comprehensive list of superintendents” opposing legislation “that could drastically affect our Area Education Agencies.” Gladbrook-Reinbeck covers some rural areas in Black Hawk, Grundy, and Marshall counties.

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Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver speak to members of the media on March 14 (photos by Laura Belin)

If you didn’t know Iowa was in the eighth year of a Republican trifecta, you might be forgiven for thinking different parties controlled the state House and Senate after watching the past week’s action.

Dozens of bills approved by one chamber failed to clear the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 15. While it’s typical for some legislation to die in committee after passing one chamber, the 2024 casualties include several high-profile bills.

The chambers remain far apart on education policy, with no agreement in sight on overhauling the Area Education Agencies, which is a top priority for Governor Kim Reynolds. The legislature is more than a month late to agree on state funding per pupil for K-12 schools, which by law should have happened by February 8 (30 days after Reynolds submitted her proposed budget). The Senate Education Committee did not even convene subcommittees on a few bills House Republicans strongly supported.

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver struck an upbeat tone when speaking to journalists on March 14. Both emphasized their ongoing conversations and opportunities for Republicans to reach agreement in the coming weeks.

But it was clear that Grassley and Whitver have very different ideas about how the legislature should approach its work.

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”

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Educators don't need guns

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

Educators need a lot of things. They need adequate on time school funding, parental support, dedicated school boards, administrators who’ll back them, copy paper, supplies, adequate preparation time, professional pay, positive working conditions, technology, and a legislature who supports public schools and doesn’t interfere with real teaching and learning.

They don’t need guns.

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Lessons from a heart attack

Shutterstock image of an angiogram is by April stock

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

I had a heart attack on the evening of February 27. All is well.

Tuesday about 7 p.m. I was sitting at the press table at the Jefferson City Council meeting, taking notes, when my chest started to hurt. I figured it was probably acid reflux, which I have from time to time, so I waited for it to go away.

It didn’t. It hung around after the meeting adjourned at 8 p.m., so when I got home I told Kathy that if it didn’t disappear by 9:30, I would go out to the emergency room at Greene County Medical Center to have it checked out.

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Iowa GOP lawmakers want their politics in your kid's classroom

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com

Republicans in the Iowa legislature say they don’t want politics in your kid’s classroom. But that’s not true. They don’t mind politics in your kid’s classroom—as long as it’s their politics.

The proof was in full view on February 28 in the Iowa House.

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Adventures in misleading headlines

Some Iowa news headlines misrepresented an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on February 27, which resolved a long-running lawsuit over Iowa’s 2021 law banning schools from requiring masks.

“Federal appeals court upholds Iowa law banning school mask mandates,” read the headline on a Cedar Rapids Gazette story, also published in some of the Lee Newspapers.

KCRG-TV’s version (carried by other television stations with the same owner) was titled “Federal appeals court upholds Iowa ban on mask mandates.”

“Appeals court upholds law banning mask mandates in schools,” read the headline on Iowa Capital Dispatch, a website that allows Iowa newspapers to republish its reporting at no charge.

The framing closely tracked written statements from Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird, who hailed the Eighth Circuit decision.

There was just one problem: the appeals court did not “uphold” the law.

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Iowa House bill would mandate long list of U.S. history topics

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

House File 2544 survived last week’s funnel deadline in the Iowa legislature and is eligible for floor debate in the state House of Representatives. If I were a public school social studies teacher in Iowa and this bill were to become law, I would begin to wonder how I could continue to teach what I know about American history and government.

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A mother's perspective: How AEA reform will hurt Iowa's children

Heather Sievers is the founder of Advocates for Iowa’s Children and an Altoona mother of a child of rare disabilities. Photo of Heather with her daughter Rowan was provided by the author and published with permission.

I am speaking out to educate our communities and give voice to thousands of families across the state who are begging our Iowa legislators to stop the Area Education Agency (AEA) education reform bill from being passed into law during the 2024 legislative session.

Having spent years building my professional experience in effective health care transformation, performance and process improvement in large systems, I know we are not doing this the right way. We are not taking time to perform a credible and thorough study to determine what reform is needed before enacting a bill. A change of this magnitude cannot be rushed, or it will inevitably fail. The risk is too high to gamble on our children’s well-being and their futures. 

Any harm to our children as a result of the decisions made this legislative session will never be forgiven, nor forgotten. Our integrated AEA system works and is a national treasure. Many states aspire to implement a system like we have, and my personal story demonstrates that our system works. 

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Senate bill would hurt Iowa's public sector unions and schools

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

America thrives on competition. We love it when victory hangs in the balance. Super Bowl Sunday is almost a national holiday that we celebrate with parties and betting. Court TV is a guilty pleasure for millions. Local, statewide, and national elections earn attention. Whatever the result, we want the competition to be fair.

Senate File 2374, which the Iowa Senate Workforce Committee approved along party lines last week, would cripple public sector unions while once again attacking public schools.

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A constructive proposal to improve Iowa's AEAs

A mother of a child with disabilities speaks to members of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31 about Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to overhaul Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin) The full Iowa Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider an amended version of the governor’s bill on February 14.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this text to all 150 Iowa legislators on February 3. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to AEAs are available here and here.

Dear Iowa State Senators and State Representatives:

My name is David Tilly. I am the parent of a child with a disability, a school psychologist and for the last 8+ years of my career I worked as the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education. I’d like to use my time today to begin discussion of how we might use the energy that has been generated by the AEA bills toward a positive result.

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A critical look at the Guidehouse report on Iowa's AEAs

Ted Stilwill served as director of the Iowa Department of Education under Governors Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack. He has also worked with a national nonprofit on program evaluation and school improvement work with several state departments of education and large school districts.

Last fall, Iowa’s Department of Administrative Services entered into a contract with Guidehouse, a business consulting firm, to produce a report on special education in Iowa. The study was designed to bolster Governor Kim Reynolds’ effort to decimate the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The report (enclosed in full below) does not name its authors. How much it cost the state is not known. The Reynolds administration has not shared its directions to Guidehouse. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. Nothing in the report indicates that a single Iowan was engaged in its preparation.

Most importantly, I believe the Guidehouse conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Of the three general negative charges against AEAs, none hold up to scrutiny, even when using data from the report.

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Can you hear us, Governor Reynolds?

Jenny Turner speaks during an Iowa House subcommittee on the governor’s AEA bill on January 31. Photo by Laura Belin

Jenny Turner is a public school mom and a school speech therapist. She lives in West Des Moines.

Governor Kim Reynolds is not happy that Iowans have opinions about her attempt to gut Iowa Area Education Agencies. She even held a press conference—a rare occurrence—about her AEA plan on January 31, a few hours before Iowa House and Senate subcommittees were scheduled to consider her bill.

The governor has been desperately blitzing social media with graphics to try to persuade people.

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Iowa House bill would allow vigilante justice in schools

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

On January 4, a 17-year-old Perry High School student killed one 6th grader and injured five others (one of whom later died) before taking his own life. In response to school shootings, Siouxland Christian School in Sioux City has decided to train and arm school staff members.

However, no evidence indicates that having more guns reduces violence. In fact, it stands to reason that more guns will create more potential for school shootings, even if only accidentally.

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Governor's revised plan for Iowa AEAs is still very bad

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

In 7th grade, I tried to build a shadowbox. I had plans, but I lacked skill. After struggling for weeks, the deadline loomed, and my shadow box was a shadow of what it was supposed to be.

I turned it in. My shop teacher frowned, sized it up and said, “Work on it a little more.” I did.

After a week of measuring, sawing in the wrong places, and hammering my fingers more than once, I tuned it in again.

This time the frown was a silent grimace. In true shop teacher bluntness, he said, “It’s still really bad.” Then remembering he was supposed to encourage, he said, “You’ll get it next time.” 

I didn’t.

My 7th grade shadowbox is like the rewrite of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “AEA Destruction Act,” Senate Study Bill 3073. The governor’s proposed amendment is still really bad.

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Governor's bill would harm not only AEAs, but public schools broadly

Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.

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Metrics don't matter: How Kim Reynolds fudged Future Ready Iowa goals

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats.

In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds made “Future Ready Iowa” her trademark program designed to improve Iowa’s workforce, setting a goal to increase the number of Iowans who had attained a post-secondary education to 70 percent of the workforce by 2025.

Reynolds announced in last month’s Condition of the State address, “I’m happy to say that we’ve reached our ambitious goal, and we did it ahead of schedule.” Future Ready Iowa’s website likewise asserts, “we are now proud to report that we have met that goal as a state.”

Two years ahead of schedule sounds like a huge public policy accomplishment, right? Not so fast. On closer examination, Reynolds and her team fudged the numbers.

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The word “groomer” has become a slur

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Want to be called a “groomer”? Try reading a library book like Teach Her a Lesson, a new thriller by attorney Kate Flora. Flora “peels back the horror of a teacher being falsely accused by a student of initiating a long-standing sexual relationship.” So says reviewer Frank O Smith. It would seem a book only for teachers and parents, but it’s not. It could easily and appropriately find its way into a school library (excerpt). I hope it does.

Or try recommending The Passing Playbook on a public Facebook page. It’s a new young adult novel by Isaac Fitzsimmons (excerpt). Book reviewer Alaina Leary says Fitzsimmons explores privilege, identity, the complicated relationships we create through family and friends, and discovering the potential our voices have with charm and passion. 

“Teens everywhere will love this one,” says one review. Meaning Moms for Liberty would likely hate it. Says Leary, “It’s about fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris, a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham (British soccer champion) in training. He’s also transgender.”

Hands down, the term “groomer” has become a slur, as foul as the “N” word or “f*g.” Its frequent use, as an insult, is often meant to imply teachers are potential sex offenders. Ironically, House File 2056 would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work unsupervised in child care centers while caring for children under age 5.

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State agency released misleading school voucher numbers

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

On January 26, a month later than planned, the Iowa Department of Education released a summary of the annual certified enrollment numbers for Iowa’s public and private K-12 schools. The agency’s news release also provided our first look at the impact “education savings accounts” (also known as school vouchers) have had on public school enrollment across Iowa.

Public school enrollment for the current academic year was 483,699, a decrease of 2,776.8 students (0.57 percent) from the previous year. Conversely, private schools had a total enrollment of 36,195 students, an increase of 2,503 students (7.4 percent) over the previous year.

When you dig into the voucher numbers, however, things begin to get interesting. According to the Department of Education, 16,757 students used vouchers this year to attend a private school.

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Plan for Iowa AEAs relied on consultant's faulty analysis

Members of the public at a January 31 Iowa House subcommittee considering House Study Bill 542, the governor’s bill on Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin)

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a follow-up letter he emailed to all 150 Iowa state legislators on January 30. His first message to lawmakers regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies is available here.

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. When I wrote my first comments to you regarding the AEA bill(s), I had only seen the bills themselves and was somewhat confused regarding the rationales for some of the bill components. The underlying report upon which this bill’s proposals are based was released recently through a Freedom of Information Act Request and posted here. This report was written by Guidehouse Inc., a respected national and international company. The report is quite well done in many regards. After reading this report, I am able to provide more specific analysis and more detailed recommendations on improving special education results in Iowa.

There appear to be three thematic issues (and a host of smaller inaccuracies) with the report that cause the report’s recommendations to be problematic. Fortunately, all 3 major issues can be fixed. The issues are: 1. The analysis is incomplete 2. The analysis/recommendations rely on unproven assumptions and 3. The analysis does not recognize the benefits inherent in the uniqueness of Iowa’s Education System structures. I will expand on each of these.

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Oh say can you see: Things can get worse

“By Dawn’s Early Light,” Photomechanical print by Edward Percy Moran, public domain from the Library of Congress, available via Wikimedia Commons

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

To nourish patriotism, some Iowa legislators want to force public school students to sing a song with lyrics gloating about “the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” that doomed slaves who, in exchange for freedom, fled to the British side in the War of 1812.

That is one take on House Study Bill 587, a proposal to mandate daily classroom singing of a verse or all four verses from our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

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Iowa lawmakers advance misguided proposals, ignore big problems


Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

These days, with political campaigns that seem to go on forever, Iowans may not recognize the significance of what occurred at polling places across the state on November 5, 1968.

Voters approved an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that day, ending the legislature’s practice of meeting only every other year. Biennial sessions had been a fact of civic life in Iowa since statehood 122 years earlier. 

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Governor's AEA plan would harm Iowa children, families, and school districts

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a letter he emailed to all Iowa state legislators on January 24 regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies. The governor’s bill has been introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542.

An open letter to Iowa State Senators and Representatives regarding the AEA System:

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) between 2012 and 2020. I administered the state education budget for PK-12 Education at the IDE during those years, and I managed all of the Department’s PK-12 programs and staff. I am a special educator by training (my Ph.D. is in School Psychology) and I worked for over 30 years in Iowa at all levels of the education system. Through these experiences, I learned quite a bit about how Iowa’s education system works.

I have analyzed SSB3073/HSB542 (changes to AEAs) carefully and I will begin my comments with the punchline: If implemented as written, these bills will harm Iowa children, families and small school districts.

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Ron DeSantis helped change Iowa for the worse

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended his presidential campaign in humiliating fashion on January 21, endorsing the man who had taunted and mocked “DeSanctimonious” for months.

Many political reporters have written about what went wrong for DeSantis, who ended up fighting for second place in Iowa after his team and allied super PACs spent at least $150 million and landed coveted endorsements. I wrote my own Iowa obituary for the Florida governor’s campaign shortly before the caucuses.

But make no mistake: despite gaining only 23,420 votes here last week, the DeSantis approach to politics left its mark on Iowa. While Governor Kim Reynolds formally endorsed her friend less than three months ago, she’s been copying his leadership style for years, hurting many vulnerable Iowans in the process.

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Iowa needs more thoughtful, inclusive approach to AEA reform

Dr. Andy Crozier is superintendent of the Central Lee Community School District. Author photo provided courtesy of the district.

I am writing to express my concerns about Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent announcement regarding the proposed reform of the Area Education Agency (AEA) system during her Condition of the State speech.

The suggested changes include moving AEAs under the Iowa Department of Education, narrowing their focus to special education, and allowing school districts to decide whether to opt into AEA services.

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The Condition of the State is a scary surprise

Governor Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State address on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

We love surprises when we anticipate they’ll be positive. But we dread the surprise of a car not starting on a subzero morning, a call at 2 a.m. from a loved one crying, or a doctor’s hushed prognosis. We laugh when people jump out at a party shouting surprise because we know we’re safe. But we scream if a group jumps out surprising us while we’re on a midnight walk.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech last week was a scary surprise party for public educators and parents.

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Iowa House speaker hints at new law on "sexually explicit" books in schools

Republican lawmakers may take additional steps to remove “sexually explicit material” from schools, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated on January 8. Speaking to fellow legislators, Grassley also blamed schools for politicizing what he called “a simple solution to protect Iowa’s students from inappropriate material.”

Grassley was the only House or Senate leader to address the school book bans in opening remarks on the first day of the legislature’s 2024 session. His comments came ten days after a federal court blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing a ban on library books and classroom materials that describe or depict sex acts.

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Iowa legislative predictions from the Magic 8 Ball

Photo of Magic 8 ball is by ChristianHeldt, available via Wikimedia Commons

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

When my kids were younger, we had a Magic 8 Ball. If you asked a Yes or No question and shook it, up popped an answer like, “Without a doubt,” “Outlook not so good,” or “Concentrate and ask again.” 

The Iowa legislature’s 2024 session began on January 8. Like last year, public education may well be on top of the agenda. With that in mind. I thought I’d introduce the Bruce Lear Magic 8 Ball. My version is next generation, so there’s an explanation with each answer. 

Like all predictions, they may be flat wrong, and they sure aren’t inevitable, especially if the education community unites and acts.

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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2023

Before Iowa politics kicks into high gear with a new legislative session and the caucuses, I want to highlight the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively on this site last year.

Some newspapers, websites, and newsletters put their best original work behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a set number of free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That includes nearly 500 articles and commentaries from 2023 alone, and thousands more posts in archives going back to 2007.

To receive links to everything recently published here via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. I also have a free Substack, which is part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Subscribers receive occasional cross-posts from Bleeding Heartland, as well as audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute show about Iowa politics co-hosted by Dennis Hart and me.

I’m grateful to all readers, but especially to tipsters. Please reach out with story ideas that may be worth pursuing in 2024.

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Iowa’s vision of the future: Down the barrel of a gun

Gun violence doesn’t originate at the schoolhouse door, and it won’t be solved there. Our policy making and political rhetoric urgently need to reflect this reality.

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education.

Around 7:45 on the morning of January 4, I was headed home after dropping my daughter off at her elementary school when I thought nothing of pulling over for an Iowa Highway Patrol car, lights and sirens blaring, headed west. Hours later, as reports came in, I saw state troopers were among the first on the scene at Perry High School, at the edge of a small Iowa town about 30 minutes due west of my own. A 17-year old student had inaugurated another year of gun violence in American schools, killing a 6th grader and injuring five other students and two staff before taking his own life.

Those dopplered sirens were an unsettling connection between my ordinary morning drop-off routine and the nightmare that had visited families of a nearby community; another sign of the persistent and unique exposure to gun violence that only the United States allows. 

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Senate File 496: An educator's dilemma

Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

Steve Peterson has been an educator for more than 20 years and currently teaches fifth grade at Decorah Middle School. He is a master teacher and the president of the Decorah Education Association. 

On December 29, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing two parts of the wide-ranging education law Senate File 496: the ban on books depicting a sex act at all grade levels, and the prohibition on promotion or instruction relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The court’s preliminary injunction is good for the students I teach and for my colleagues in classrooms around the state. But the hold also comes at a great time for me, personally—because I was just about to report to the Iowa Department of Education that I may have broken the law.

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Teachers, need a resolution for 2024? Join the ISEA

Joe Biden speaks at the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) legislative conference in 2020, as ISEA President Mike Beranek watches. Photo by Bernie Scolaro, published with permission.

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

Resolutions for the New Year are easy to give up on. It often seemed the year had barely begun when I would forget whatever it was I said I would (or wouldn’t) do. So when I went to Planet Fitness yesterday, I looked around wondering how many of these people just joined because they made that resolution to feel better—to get fit, be in better shape, lose weight.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep? I think one of the obstacles to attaining a goal is that so much in life is out of our control.

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A losing candidate tells her side of the story

Photo of Joan Marttila provided by the author and published with permission.

Joan Martila is a retired Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency audiologist. She is a former president of the Iowa Speech Language Hearing Association as well as a former president of the Iowa Speech Language Hearing Foundation. 

Another election year is upon us. I can guess what you’re thinking, because I have heard others say it: Why do Iowa Democrats have so many losers running of office? 

I am one of those losers. Let me tell you my side of the story.

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Nine new year's wishes for a better Iowa


Ralph Rosenberg of Ames is a retired attorney, former state legislator, former director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and former leader of statewide Iowa nonprofit organizations. He and Barbara Wheelock, also of Ames, signed this open letter on behalf of PRO Iowa 24, a group of concerned rural Iowans with progressive values from Greene, Guthrie, Boone, Story, and Dallas counties.

Now is a good time for the public to make their wishes known for 2024 state policies. Tell your legislators to act on behalf of all Iowans, create an economy that works for all Iowans, and use the government to protect the most vulnerable. Republicans can enact each and every one of these items on a bipartisan basis.

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The 23 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2023

Iowa’s Republican legislators, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Senator Chuck Grassley inspired the majority of Bleeding Heartland’s most-read posts during the year that just ended. But putting this list together was trickier than my previous efforts to highlight the site’s articles or commentaries that resonated most with readers.

For fifteen years, I primarily used Google Analytics to track site traffic. Google changed some things this year, prompting me to switch to Fathom Analytics (an “alternative that doesn’t compromise visitor privacy for data”) in July. As far as I could tell during the few days when those services overlapped, they reached similar counts for user visits, page views, and other metrics. But the numbers didn’t completely line up, which means the Google Analytics data I have for posts published during the first half of the year may not be the same numbers Fathom would have produced.

Further complicating this enterprise, I cross-post some of my original reporting and commentary on a free email newsletter, launched on Substack in the summer of 2022 as part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Some of those posts generated thousands of views that would not be tabulated as visits to Bleeding Heartland. I didn’t include Substack statistics while writing this piece; if I had, it would have changed the order of some posts listed below.

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Court blocks Iowa's "staggeringly broad" book bans, teaching restrictions

UPDATE: Attorney General Brenna Bird filed notice of appeal to the Eighth Circuit on January 12. Original post follows.

The state of Iowa cannot enforce key parts of a new law that sought to ban books depicting sex acts from schools and prohibit instruction “relating to gender identity and sexual orientation” from kindergarten through sixth grade.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher issued a preliminary injunction on December 29, putting what he called “staggeringly broad” provisions on hold while two federal lawsuits challenging Senate File 496 proceed. The judge found the book bans “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny,” and the teaching restrictions “void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

However, the state may continue to enforce a provision requiring school administrators to inform parents or guardians if a student seeks an “accommodation that is intended to affirm the student’s gender identity.” Judge Locher found the LGBTQ students who are plaintiffs in one case lack standing to challenge that provision, since “they are all already ‘out’ to their families and therefore not affected in a concrete way” by it.

Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird quickly criticized the court’s decision. But neither engaged with the legal issues at hand.

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Iowa teacher: "communication junkies" need more self-discipline in class

Gail Wortmann works with a student as she works on a Rube Goldberg machine (a complicated gadget that performs a simple task) in physical science class. Photo published with permission from the Bloomfield Democrat.

Karen Spurgeon is publisher of the Bloomfield Democrat, a Davis County newspaper where this article first appeared.

Gail Wortmann has had an exceptional career as a science teacher, but when she agreed to finish out the semester for a Davis County science teacher who left the school system on short notice, she found herself spending more time on disciplining and less on teaching than ever before in her career.

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State gaslights on Iowa's book ban, "don't say gay/trans" law

Image of frequently banned books by On The Run Photo is available via Shutterstock. All books shown here have been removed from multiple Iowa school districts, according to the Des Moines Register’s database.

A federal judge will soon decide whether to block enforcement of all or part of an Iowa law that imposed many new regulations on public school libraries and educators.

Two groups of plaintiffs filed suit last month challenging Senate File 496 as unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, the law prohibits school libraries and classrooms from offering “any material with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.” It also forbids schools from providing “any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six.”

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher of the Southern District of Iowa did not consolidate the cases, which contain some overlapping arguments. But he did consolidate the hearings on the plaintiffs’ requests for a temporary injunction, which would prevent the state from enforcing certain provisions of SF 496 while litigation proceeds.

Near the end of that December 22 hearing in Des Moines, the judge said he will rule on whether to issue an injunction by January 1, when provisions allowing the state to investigate or discipline educators or school districts for certain violations will take effect.

Attorneys for the state advanced several misleading or contradictory legal arguments at the hearing and in briefs filed last week.

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Who's behind the surge in Iowa's charter school applications

UPDATE: The Iowa State Board of Education approved all of the applications described below on January 11. Original post follows.

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

The Iowa Department of Education recently announced that five groups have applied to open eight new charter schools in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids for the 2024/2025 school year. Only one of those five groups is based in Iowa.

The full applications for each proposed charter school are available on this page of the Department of Education’s website. Be aware that some of these applications stretch to nearly 400 pages, so if you want to review them, plan to spend some time on the task.

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Ten possible reasons Kim Reynolds is the most unpopular governor

Doris J. Kelley is a former member of the Iowa House and former Iowa Board of Parole Chair, Vice-Chair and Executive Director.

After being re-elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, I met newly elected State Senator Kim Reynolds in 2009 at an event where a bipartisan group of “veteran” legislators were giving advice to newly elected ones. My next interaction with Reynolds was when she was lieutenant governor, and Governor Terry Branstad appointed me to serve as Vice-Chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. After I was promoted to chair that board, I met frequently with Branstad and Reynolds, apprising them of the progressive measures the board was undertaking.

Two recent surveys by Morning Consult, released in late October and late November, identified Reynolds as the country’s governor with the highest disapproval rating. A summary of the October poll noted, “her unpopularity increased partly because of a surge in negative sentiment among independent and Republican voters during a year in which she signed a strict anti-abortion law and took a lashing from former President Donald Trump …”

What has happened to Iowa since Reynolds assumed the office of governor on May 24, 2017?

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Downsizing AEAs would be another attack on Iowa schools

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.  

Governor Kim Reynolds’ attitude toward public education reminds me of a scene from an old movie called the Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds. There’s a 2005 Adam Sandler remake, but that’s more like a missed field goal.

Burt plays Paul Crewe, a wisecracking, pro quarterback who is convicted and sent to prison. The warden stages a game between the guards and prisoners.

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Vouchers have mixed impact on Iowa’s largest schools

Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville, Iowa, in photo from the school’s Facebook page

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Although the Iowa Department of Education won’t release official enrollment numbers until mid-December, available data already show how the new education savings accounts (commonly known as school vouchers) are affecting some of our state’s largest school districts.

The Council Bluffs Community Schools recently announced that they lost 30 students to nearby St. Albert Catholic School. The loss of those students means the district will lose $234,000 in state funding. Since teachers are already under contract for this year, and the decline in enrollment isn’t concentrated on one grade, the district will have a difficult time reducing costs.

In an interview with Sean MacKinnon of Omaha-based TV station KETV, Council Bluffs superintendent Vicki Murillo chose to look on the bright side by noting that while 30 students left the Council Bluffs school district, nearly 9,000 decided to stay.

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Scott County supervisors violate the law

Scott County Administrative Center (Photo by Ed Tibbetts)

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com.

Scott County continues to have trouble with elections.

Last year, a controversy erupted over a state legislative race. This year, it’s a school board contest.

On December 4, a 3-2 majority of the Scott County Board of Supervisors voted to reject the report of a three-person recount board in a closely contested Pleasant Valley School Board race.

The supervisors claimed the recount board broke the law.

So, the majority responded by breaking the law themselves.

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A close look at the second lawsuit challenging Iowa's book bans

From left: Author Laurie Halse Anderson, author Malinda Lo, and Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek. Screenshots taken during the November 30 news conference announcing a new legal challenge to Senate File 496.

“The right to speak and the right to read are inextricably intertwined.”

So declare the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit filed challenging Iowa’s new ban on certain library books and classroom materials.

The new federal lawsuit focuses on two provisions of Senate File 496, which Republican lawmakers approved in April and Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May. A separate federal lawsuit filed last week challenges SF 496 in its entirety, focusing on additional provisions targeting LGBTQ students as well as the book bans.

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Dependable schools require dependable maintenance

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

Dad loved to tell the story of the guy so lazy that when he had a flat tire, he sold the car instead of changing the tire. That story was accompanied by a PS: “If you want a dependable car, you have to provide dependable maintenance.” 

It’s also true for public schools.

It’s a lesson for Governor Kim Reynolds.

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Is our governor dismantling Iowa?

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Marilynne Robinson has been called “America’s greatest living writer.” When she calls out Iowa’s governor over our state’s new education policies, we need to pay heed.

Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus in the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop (1991-2016). She continues to live in Iowa City where she writes, plans her lectures, and attends to worship at the Congregational United Church of Christ

She is the author of the Pulitzer-winning novel Gilead (2004) and four other novels, all my favorites, plus hundreds of essays, lectures, and collections. Her four novels in the Gilead series were selected as a set for Oprah’s Book Club in 2021.

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Political chaos prevents problem solving

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

In college, I worked as a security guard at a window factory. My job was to make rounds ensuring there were no intruders or fires. Usually there were two guards working in two connected factories. 

The factory was dark; guards were alone.

Most nights I read and dozed. The guards hired were either college students or people who couldn’t find another job, since $2.20 an hour was a lousy wage, even in 1978. 

One of the guards was a failed undertaker who tried to entertain us with mortuary horror stories. He also frequently left his building to jump out and scare the other guard on duty. Most nights, it was a joke.   

But one night, things changed.

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Progressives win, book banners lose many Iowa school board races

Voters in Iowa’s large school districts overwhelmingly picked progressive candidates over conservatives on November 7. In many urban and suburban districts, candidates backed by local Democrats, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), and/or the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa Action ran the table, while candidates backed by activists on the religious right fell short.

The results are a rebuke to Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature, which enacted new laws in 2023 that undermined public schools and LGBTQ students, and restricted school library books and inclusive curriculum materials.

They also show the enduring strength of the state’s largest teachers union. For many years, Iowans elected school boards in September and city councils and mayors in November. The GOP trifecta changed state law so that beginning in 2019, school board and city elections would occur on the same day. The idea was to increase local election turnout and thereby diminish the ISEA’s influence over school boards. Nevertheless, candidates backed by public educators prevailed in many of this year’s most competitive races.

One city election also underscored how unpopular book banning is with Iowans. In the notoriously conservative town of Pella, voters rejected by 2,041 votes to 1,954 (51.1 percent to 48.9 percent) a ballot measure that would have empowered the city council to overrule the public library board.

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Cast your vote November 7 to keep Iowa a state of minds

Cheryl Tevis writes Unfinished Business, a weekly Substack newsletter for the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative, where this column first appeared. She is an editor emeritus with Successful Farming at DotDash Meredith, and a contributor to the Iowa History Journal. Cheryl is president of Iowa Women in Agriculture.

My stint on a rural Boone County school board from 1996 to 2005 was no picnic. It was punctuated by controversies over one-way vs. two-way sharing agreements, reorganization votes, and open enrollment petitions. Our board and our new administrator struggled to dig the school out of a financial hole created by a predatory sharing agreement and made worse by the erosion of farm families during the 1980s farm crisis. We worked hard to prevail against a relentless pounding from adverse rural demographic trends.

I’m certain some of the district’s constituents were sorry they ever had voted for me. And as my term ended, personal relationships within our board were strained, and cratering.

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Iowa governor tries to defend vague education law

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

In a hearing, I always knew when the lawyer on the other side didn’t have a good case. Instead of focusing on facts, they shouted and pounded the table more in hopes the arbitrator might forget and get distracted by a loud passionate argument. 

That’s what Governor Kim Reynolds tried during her October 25 press conference, when asked about book banning in public schools.

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What school boards can do to address Iowa's teacher shortage

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

It’s school board candidate forum season heading toward the November 7 elections. Watching these events, I’ve noticed most candidates, except those with their own political agenda, understand our state is facing a profound teacher shortage. 

Recently, I’ve heard candidates say, “We need to attract and retain teachers.” But how can school boards do that? What must happen in Iowa to make it possible?

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Time to review Iowa's generous state support for private K-12 schools

Pat O’Donnell is a resident of Sioux Center and spent 37 years serving in Iowa public schools as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He may be reached at patnancy@zoho.com.

Under Iowa’s new school voucher plan, the state will provide “education savings accounts” worth $7,635 per student attending an accredited nonpublic school each year. The program, created in January through the Students First Act (House File 68), may cost $144 million in the first year alone.

But for many years prior to passage of the Students First Act, Iowa has provided programs and resources to private schools, in the form of services, reimbursements and tax advantages. Now that private schools are receiving so much additional public money, should those supports be repealed?

Here are some examples of the programs and resources Iowa has long provided to private K-12 schools.

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Peace in the Middle East? History has some lessons

Jodie Butler’s career of more than 45 years includes work at the local, state, national and international levels from teaching to education and technology policy development. She was Governor Terry Branstad’s education policy advisor (January 1994 to October 1998), with responsibilities for policy/law development, budget initiatives, constituent services, and agency liaison to multiple state agencies.

I had some amazing opportunities from 1994-1998. One memory came flooding back after the latest Hamas terrorist attack against Israel.

It was my first day on the job as Governor Branstad’s education policy advisor in January 1994. I was reassigned to be his aide that day and attended the convention of the Iowa Utility Association. Hundreds of people were at the convention center luncheon, yet one could have heard a pin drop for the 30 minutes that Thomas Sutherland spoke. It will remain one of the highlights of my public service to have had the chance to hear him.

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There's trouble in the city of refuge

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

As a Central College student, I learned Pella has two Hebrew definitions: “City of Refuge” and “Marvel of God.” But neither of these definitions captures the storm raging in this small college town around book banning. This time it’s not about books in the public school’s curriculum or library. This controversy centers on books in the public library.

The Pella storm began long before this year, when Iowa Republican lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds enacted Senate File 496. Among other things, the new law states that school libraries and classrooms may only contain “age-appropriate” materials, and further says age-appropriate “does not include any material with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” as defined in a separate code section.

The current Pella conflict began nearly two years ago, when a parent complained the public library had Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe on the adult shelves. That award-winning book “recounts Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood and the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality.”

But it’s not just about this book. 

Like Senate File 496, it’s a battle to censor ideas a few people find offensive.

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Larry McBurney, Jason Menke running in Iowa House district 44

Two Democrats are actively campaigning for a open Iowa House seat covering much of the city of Urbandale.

Urbandale City Council member and U.S. Air Force combat veteran Larry McBurney launched his campaign for House district 44 in September, soon after State Representative John Forbes, who has represented much of this area since 2013, announced he will run for Polk County supervisor in 2024.

Urbandale School Board member Jason Menke made his legislative campaign official on October 10.

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Question reveals differing views on "wasteful" spending

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

For many years, an Iowa State University political science professor and I met several times a year for coffee and conversation.

During our coffee klatches, I probed my friend’s thinking on world affairs, on government issues, and on politics in Iowa and across the United States. I suspect he tried to use these get-togethers to give me a something of a graduate-level seminar in American government, absent any lectures. 

Educators these days are frequently accused of trying to indoctrinate their students with a particular point of view. But what I came to realize during those sessions at the Stomping Grounds coffee shop in Ames was fundamental to excellence in teaching: The professor did not tell me what to think. He tried to get me to think more clearly and to analyze with more sophistication and depth. He helped me spot weaknesses in my own opinions and develop a better understanding of factors that may lead other people to see things differently than I did.

After retiring, my friend sold his acreage and left Iowa for a more scenic place to live. Our caffeine intake has declined, but we still stay in touch via email. Last week, the professor’s Stomping Grounds “student” field-tested the professor’s method of posing challenging questions to get people to re-examine their own opinions and see why some people have a different view than other people. 

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Ron Reagan's message would surprise Linn County Republicans

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

The image at the top of this post comes from the Linn County Republicans’ graphic promoting their upcoming October fundraiser. The event is billed as a Reagan Breakfast starting at 7:00 AM. We all know Reagan won’t be there. The former president, never one to get up that early, has been dead for nearly 20 years. 

A Reagan impersonator, the self-described MAGA presidential candidate Larry Elder, is the guest speaker. 

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Laws that ban books run contrary to Iowa's history, legacy

Banned Book Week runs from October 1 to October 7, 2023. The following letter, released on September 14, was co-signed by The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Board of Directors, Mayor Bruce Teague on behalf of the City of Iowa City, The Iowa City Public Library Trustees, The Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation, The Coralville Public Library, The North Liberty Library, Think Iowa City, Iowa Small Library Association executive board, Prairie Lights, One Iowa, The Tuesday Agency, Iowa City Poetry, the Iowa Library Association, and Corridor Community Action Network.

An open letter to Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa legislature:

Iowa is home to one of the most literary cities on earth. It is here where the Iowa Writers’ Workshop produced some of the greatest voices in American Literature: Frank Conroy, John Irving, Wallace Stegner, Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove, Ayana Mathis, Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, and so many others. Iowa is also home to contemporary writers producing works of fiction and non-fiction that are both bold in truth-telling and revolutionary in voice.

It’s because of this legacy and the dedication of Iowans to producing great writing, that Iowa City was declared a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Often called the “Athens of the Midwest,” Iowa City has a unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and  support writers. At the same time, it has long been, quite simply, a place for writers and for readers: a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery. Iowa has a history and an identity in which its citizens take enormous pride, prizing a role in celebrating and honoring writers and good writing.

On May 26, Iowa’s governor signed into law legislation that runs counter to that legacy. Senate File 496 prohibits books with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries. The legislation also bans written materials and instruction on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” This law was passed under the pretense of protecting children, and yet what this law amounts to is a book ban that limits children’s freedom of expression and access to knowledge about the world around them.

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School boards help Iowa schools survive

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

As Republican presidential wannabes traipse across the countryside, offering 30-second solutions for complex problems, a more immediate election is looming. School board elections on November 7 will help determine whether our community school thrives, suffers, or dies.

Currently, Governor Kim Reynolds and a group of legislative lemmings are committed to creating a two-tiered school system in Iowa, separate and unequal, both funded with public dollars. One tier is used as a political punching bag, has new laws to cope with, accepts all students, and is chronically underfunded. The other tier has funding from a new voucher entitlement, can pick and choose who to accept, and has little to no accountability to taxpayers.

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When are Iowa students old enough to read books?

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association. Top photo of Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking at Oregon State University on February 2, 2017 is by Theresa Hogue, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Steve Corbin made a solid point his latest column (published in Bleeding Heartland and later in the Cedar Rapids Gazette): “Many of today’s GOP-oriented governors and legislators, far rightwing groups, conservative media and Republican presidential candidates have either passed or supported book banning, anti-LGBTQIA and laws prohibiting teaching about racism.” 

“It’s a blatant attack on … the rights of students, parents, teachers, general public and book authors,” wrote Corbin. 

Corbin’s point is well-taken, and others have said the same, but action or litigation to blunt the attack is nonexistent. Where are the fair-minded parents, politicians, students, teachers, et al whose outrage could demand instructional integrity and curtail naive book bans? 

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Conservatives attacking Americans' First Amendment rights

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party. 

I fondly recall my senior year in high school when Mary Beth Tinker, John Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore black armbands to their high school to protest the Vietnam War. Their suspension from school was cast around the thought that wearing armbands would disrupt learning.

In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case from 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines, seven justices agreed students’ freedom of expression should be protected. The majority refuted the school’s stance by candidly stating “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.”

Many of today’s GOP-oriented governors and legislators, far right-wing groups, conservative media, and Republican presidential candidates have either enacted or endorsed book banning or limits to curriculum on LGBTQ and anti-racist topics. It’s a blatant attack on the constitutional rights of students, parents, teachers, the general public, and book authors.

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Iowa House district 22 primary: Samantha Fett vs. Garrett Gobble

Education is shaping up to be a defining issue in an open-seat race for a strongly Republican Iowa House district.

State Representative Stan Gustafson, who currently represents House district 22, is planning to retire at the end of his current term. Samantha Fett, a former Carlisle school board member and chapter leader of Moms for Liberty, announced last month that she will seek the Republican nomination. Fett has spoken at several Iowa House or Senate meetings during the past two years, urging lawmakers to approve various education-related or anti-LGBTQ bills.

Garrett Gobble announced his candidacy for the same district in a September 8 Facebook post. He previously represented part of Ankeny in the Iowa House for one term. A recent guest commentary for the Des Moines Register indicated that Gobble hopes Governor Kim Reynolds and groups focused on school policies will stay out of his upcoming race.

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Iowa's tobacco use, student aid commissions play valuable role

Democratic State Senator Herman Quirmbach submitted the following written comments to members of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee. They are an extended version of remarks he delivered during the September 6 public hearing at the state capitol. You can view the committee’s draft recommendations here.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Boards & Commissions Review Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on September 6. What follows is a review and extension of my remarks.

I offer the following observations as a member of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Commission (Tobacco Commission) and of the College Student Aid Commission (CSAC). I have served on both these commissions for approximately twenty years as an ex-officio non-voting member. Both commissions oversee the implementation and administration of critical state programs to protect the public health (Tobacco) and enhance educational opportunities and workforce development (CSAC). Beyond the functioning of existing programs, members of the commissions provide exceptionally valuable expertise to help guide the development of public policy for the future.

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They’re not coming for our kids, Governor

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Michael Stahr of Boone recently asked in a letter to the Des Moines Register, “Why won’t teachers cooperate with parents?” Aside from assuming facts not in evidence, his question is worthy of comment.

Stahr was responding to a guest column by public school educator Matt Pries, entitled “Educators should be in schools’ driver’s seat.” Stahr counters with, “A teaching certificate doesn’t mean that kids are the teacher’s. Nor are they the community’s. They are the parent’s.”

Stahr is not alone in harboring the “who owns kids” nonsense. The best answer is that a child belongs to him/herself or their selves. Parents are their kid’s first teachers, but youngsters get guidance along the way from friends and every other person they meet, especially teachers.

Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds used the scary phrase “They’re coming for our kids” in her speech to Moms for Liberty last February. She wasn’t referring to the yellow buses that pick up kids each morning.

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Teachers are unique

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

The butter used to sculpt the butter cow is in cold storage. In stores, back-to-school supplies are supplanted by Halloween. From the looks of Facebook, parents mostly won the first day photo battle and got the cherished shot of their kids holding a paper plate with their new grade announced boldly.

School has started.

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Debunking the talking points for Iowa's "school choice" program

Pat O’Donnell is a resident of Sioux Center and spent 37 years serving in Iowa public schools as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He may be reached at patnancy@zoho.com.

On August 18, the Iowa PBS program “Iowa Press” hosted Josh Bowar, Sioux Center Christian School Head of School, and Jennifer Raes, principal of St. Anthony School, a Catholic institution in Des Moines. The topic for discussion: Iowa’s Students First Act, the new program directing state tax dollars to support private school tuition for every kindergarten through 12th-grade student in the state.

The bill establishes a framework and financing for education savings accounts (ESAs), also known as vouchers, which eligible families may use to cover tuition, fees, and other qualified education expenses at Iowa’s accredited private schools.

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The slow assassination of public education in Iowa

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and current Sioux City school board member.

The Iowa State Fair may be a good place for conspirators to say the quiet part out loud in public and hardly get noticed. People are far too busy eating food on sticks and taking pictures of the Butter Cow. 

If you happened to watch Governor Kim Reynolds’ “fair-side chats,” you may have seen the governor clap gleefully as GOP presidential candidate Perry Johnson spoke of wanting to do away with the U.S. Department of Education.

Rule 1: Put it out there, normalize the concept to avoid real thought about what that would mean for our future students.

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Sizing up a Matt Blake/Brad Zaun race in Iowa Senate district 22

UPDATE: Zaun told the Des Moines Register on October 6 that he will seek re-election in 2024. Original post follows.

A parade of presidential candidates visiting the Iowa State Fair overshadowed some important election news this week. Urbandale City Council member Matt Blake announced on August 17 that he’s running to represent Senate district 22, giving Democrats a strong contender in what will be a top-tier Iowa legislative race.

In a news release, Blake said “Iowa is not heading in the right direction,” and characterized the Republican-controlled legislature’s actions as “out of step with what Iowans want and deserve.” 

Republican State Senator Brad Zaun has represented the Urbandale area in the legislature since 2005. He has not publicly announced whether he intends to seek a sixth term in the Iowa Senate and did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s phone or email messages seeking to clarify his plans.

Whether Blake ends up competing against Zaun or in an open seat, Senate district 22 is clearly Iowa Democrats’ best opportunity to gain ground in the upper chamber. The party currently holds only sixteen of 50 districts, its smallest Iowa Senate contingent in about 50 years.

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It's time for the education community to protect one another

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

In some families, there’s an unwritten rule. You may fight within the family, but if someone from the outside attacks, you unite to defend. Well, the education family is under attack. It’s time for all parts of the family—school boards, administrators, teachers, staff, and substitutes—to circle the wagons to protect the profession and our students.

I know a lot of educators hate politics and they hate the “us-vs-them mentality.” But teachers who’ve taught more than a couple of years realize the profession is being torn apart by the big school board in Des Moines, called the Iowa legislature. 

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Vivek Ramaswamy's "truths" are tailored to older voters—not youth

Photo of Vivek Ramaswamy at the Iowa State Fair by Greg Hauenstein, whose other Iowa political photography can be found here.

“Good things are going to happen in this country, and it just might take a different generation to help lead us there,” Vivek Ramaswamy said a few minutes into his “fair-side chat” with Governor Kim Reynolds on August 12. The youngest candidate in the GOP presidential field (he turned 38 last week) regularly reminds audiences that he is the first millennial to run for president as a Republican.

Speaking to reporters after the chat, Ramaswamy asserted, “it takes a person of a different generation to reach the next generation.” He expressed doubt that “an octogenarian can reinspire and reignite pride in the next generation,” and said his “fresh legs” can reach young voters by “leading us to something” instead of “running from something.”

But the candidate’s talking points—especially the “ten commandments” that typically cap his stump speech—are a better fit for an older demographic than for the young voters Republicans have been alienating for the past 20 years.

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David Young's narrow win in House district 28 cost everyone too much

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats, was a Democratic primary candidate for Iowa House district 28 in 2022, and is an attorney.

In the 2022 election for Iowa House district 28, Republican David Young showed up again in Iowa politics, after losing Congressional races in 2018 and 2020. Young won the Iowa House seat covering parts of Dallas County by only 907 votes, after the Iowa Democratic Party spent only about a quarter as much on supporting its nominee as the Republican Party of Iowa spent on behalf of Young.

Each of those winning votes cost his campaign about $331 based on campaign finance data. All told, Young and the Republican Party spent nearly half a million dollars on his race. As this article demonstrates, his election cost everyone too much—in money spent and loss of freedoms.

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Book ban? Whatever

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.


As some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I’ve got a little list — I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!

—Gilbert and Sullivan, from The Mikado

All around the state of Iowa, and perhaps soon in the 34 other states where legislation is bubbling, school districts are making not so little lists — of books to be removed from school libraries and classrooms. In Iowa the reason is Senate File 496, which, by accident or diabolic design closely resembles the title of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, in which a future authoritarian American government has criminalized all books and burns any they find. (The title relates to the temperature at which paper catches fire.)

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History should be about learning—not comfort

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, in Iowa and elsewhere. 

Florida Republicans just whitewashed their history curriculum. Slavery wasn’t so bad. Look away from the rape, torture, and selling children like livestock. Did you know that enslaved people learned skills from which they benefited (slavery was a jobs training program)? Create a false equivalence by saying that both sides committed violence during the civil rights era (spoiler: sometimes Blacks shot back).  

Florida Republicans aren’t acting alone. Republicans across the country have been and continue to march history back to the time when white, male, Christian, straight, native-born men wrote the textbooks, centering themselves. That’s the history I learned in school. 

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A love letter for my teachers

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He took the photo above of Shellsburg School (now Vinton-Shellsburg).

Teachers have earned appreciation for more than a week in May or during tragedies like school shootings or a pandemic. They really do train all other professions.  

People who boast about pulling themselves up with their bootstraps have short memories. If I tried to pull myself up with my own bootstraps, they would have broken, and my boots would have remained firmly on the floor. No, in my tiny school in my tiny town, I had some dedicated motivators called teachers.

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Iowa's culture war: Pronouns, nicknames, and LGBTQ kids' rights

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education.

On August 1, I got an email from my kids’ school district announcing a new required form I needed to fill out in response to Senate File 496, part of the slate of so-called Parents’ Rights provisions that Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May. The letter read in part:

Recently passed legislation, Senate File 496, requires that school districts receive written permission from parents and/or guardians regarding any request by a student to accommodate a gender identity, name or pronoun that is different from what was assigned to the student during the school registration process. This requirement also applies to all nicknames. (i.e. Sam instead of Samuel; Addy instead of Addison, etc.)

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When you love America like you love your child

Al Womble is chair of the Iowa Democratic Party’s Black Caucus.

I was a student at Drake University in the early 1990s. What I enjoyed most about Drake was having classes that allowed me to truly get to know my fellow students, and to have discussions with them both in and outside of class. Our classes and our homework often brought up certain topics and ideas that would then extend beyond the classroom itself. We often stayed up until one or two AM talking and debating.

We had a history professor who wasn’t at Drake very long, because she moved on to a bigger east coast school. But she was a Black female history professor, and I remember her willingness to challenge students’ perceptions. That was a feature of the the Drake University environment, and I guess it still is true.

Someone once asked that professor why she hated this country. She said, “I don’t hate this country. I love this country. But I look at this country like my child. When my child has a sickness, I realize there’s something wrong and I have to do something about that sickness.”

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Stay WOKE to America

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Before critical race theory (CRT) was named and studied in universities and used to frame legal arguments (and fell into disrepute among Republicans), I learned enough to qualify me as WOKE, at least on a scale with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds—a low bar, I admit. 

It’s a bold claim, one based mainly on the fortuitous experiences of my youth, all before Iowa’s governor was born. 

As we know, Reynolds was born and reared in Iowa. She graduated from I-35 High School in 1977, and entered a typical middle-class life of occasional college classes, marriage, children, parenthood, jobs, and local politics beginning in the Clarke County treasurer’s office during the 1990s. She was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2008.

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If it sounds too good to be true...

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. Bruce took the photo above, of a Branson attraction that’s not what it seems.

We’d been driving a few hours. The warning signs were flashing, backs aching, bladders full. Time to stop. We were on an anniversary trip to Branson, Missouri. Branson is the Las Vegas of the Ozarks. But think Vegas sans gambling, and with an added “heapin helpin” of southern, family, values.

Just before Branson, we saw a huge sign screaming “Discount Show Tickets Here.” My wife craves discounts, and those warning signs persisted. We stopped.

Little did we know as we stepped from the car to the building, we were entering THE TIME-SHARE ZONE. In the time-share zone, nothing is what it seems, and everything is too good to be true. 

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Finding more than meets the eye when Iowans gather

Patrick Muller is a visual artist living in Hills (Johnson County).

Multiple times a year, teenage athletes from all corners of the state roll into a dedicated tournament venue to showcase their talents and compete for trophies. While forming a sports conclave, these individuals and teams also represent schools and towns. These competitions, then, have the additional potential to be meetings of minds and substrates for community building. When, for instance, Audobon, Bloomfield, Cascade, and Milford contestants meet, why not use that occasion for a pop-up chautauqua, learning commons, or consideration cafe?

While students are heaving a discus or passing the baton, individuals from their schools and towns could get together to share, on a variety of topics, best practices and approaches to opportunities and challenges; learn; network; and even sketch out some multi-community collaborations.

Truly, after nearly a century of championships in some sports, one has to wonder why these affairs are still merely ephemeral, insular, ostensibly single-purposed. 

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Costs soar for Iowa's school voucher plan

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican-controlled legislature agreed to a budget that allocated $107 million in fiscal year 2024 to pay for private school vouchers for an estimated 14,068 students. But the number of Iowans who applied for “education savings accounts” vastly exceeded that number: 29,025 applications by the June 30 deadline.

The good folks at the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, who usually do an excellent job of forecasting costs, calculated the original estimate. However, when the actual number is more than double your forecast, something is off somewhere.

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What Iowa leaders don’t grasp about books in schools

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

My late friend Paul was a fine Des Moines teacher. I wish the Evans girls had him for history and government. 

Judging from his ability to entertain me with descriptions of his interactions with students, parents and administrators, I am confident he could make the Peloponnesian War come alive for his history students and hold their attention.

If I live to be 100, I will never forget him relating anecdotes from parent-teacher conferences. He described one student sitting next to Mom, listening as Paul expressed concern about the kid’s sluggishness many mornings.

Then came the money quote: “You know the rules!” Mom exclaimed, looking her son in the eyes. “There’s no marijuana use on school nights!”

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We can stop this storm

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

There’s only silence. Waves of heat cause the blacktop to steam. Outdoor dogs slouch with snouts on sweaty paws, without raising hooded eyes. They offer no usual chase, only a feeble growl as kids peddle slowly by. The stillness envelopes newly planted corn, so if your heads cocked just right, you hear it moan growing. Thermometers glow 98, but it’s hotter.

Old men rub aching knees and nod knowingly.

30 miles north, thunder begins its roar, wind buckle shingles on roofs long overdue as lightning begins a fireworks show not seen since two July Fourths ago. 

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Exclusive: Iowa's late reporting jeopardized universities' federal funds

The state of Iowa’s chronic lateness in producing financial reports threatened to disrupt the flow of federal funds to Iowa’s universities this year, documents obtained by Bleeding Heartland show.

For the third year in a row, the state will be more than six months late to publish its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR), which the Iowa Department of Administrative Services compiles. As of June 26, only six states had not published their comprehensive financial reports for fiscal year 2022 (see appendix 2 below).

The delay has pushed back the publication of Iowa’s statewide Single Audit, a mandatory annual report for non-federal entities that spend a certain amount of federal dollars.

To address concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Education, state auditors worked out an arrangement to produce individual FY2022 Single Audit reports for Iowa’s three state universities by the end of June. The State Auditor’s office released the first of those reports, covering the University of Iowa, on June 27.

Going forward, state auditors will prepare separate Single Audit reports for each Iowa university by March 31, the federal deadline for providing such documentation.

A notice posted in January on the EMMA website, the leading source for data and documents related to municipal bonds, did not clarify why Iowa’s ACFR would be late again. Tami Wiencek, public information officer for the Department of Administrative Services, has not replied to inquiries about the reason for the extended delay. Records indicate that staff turnover at the agency has derailed what was for many years a smooth process.

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Bettendorf schools, state board blunder in major transparency case

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

These are challenging times for Iowa’s 327 public school districts. 

They are being watched closely by state officials and lawmakers, by parents and by others in the community. These eyes are looking for signs schools are treading lightly on topics like racial history and sexual orientation or that schools are being distracted from dealing with unruly kids who disrupt other students’ learning.

With this heightened scrutiny, some districts are doing themselves a disservice when they try to keep the public in the dark.

Here’s a real-life example. It illustrates my belief government will never build trust and confidence with its constituents when government leaders engage in secrecy and deception. This episode is also a case study of how a state government board dealing exclusively with transparency issues can be too timid. 

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In today's culture war, Iowa is 1950s Ireland

Chuck Holden was born and raised in Iowa and is a history professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

As readers of Bleeding Heartland know all too well, there are no signs that the hard-right GOP governing the state will stop its drastic reshaping of law and culture. Iowa, it appears, is competing with states like Texas and Florida for the title of most reactionary. But due to their size and much more diverse populations, Texas and Florida do not serve as good comparisons for a state like Iowa. Rather, Ireland in the mid-1900s, nearly all white and all conservative Christian, does.

The vision of Iowa that the state’s Republican leadership seems to have in mind is remarkably similar to that of the long-time Irish leader Éamon de Valera’s from the 1930s through the 1980s: lands of sturdy farms and humble, god-fearing families where “traditional” is worn as a badge of pride. But underneath the wholesome image one finds punitive regimes ever-alert to threats real or imagined of an encroaching modern world.

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A dumpster fire ready to ignite

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

It’s been 33 years since Rosanne Barr butchered the National Anthem on live TV at a Padres baseball game. I remember asking then, “What did they expect to happen?” 

After all, Barr wasn’t a singer. She was an over-the-top standup comedian also starring in “Roseanne,” a sitcom shattering the myth of the “Leave it to Beaver family” on TV. Not only did Barr screech the anthem, she did it while plugging her ears and giggling. Then she grabbed her crotch and spit on the ground. 

The public reaction was fierce. The stands erupted in boos and taunts, and the Padres faced a public relations nightmare complete with veteran groups condemning Barr and calling for boycotts of the team. 

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Iowa governor passes over GOP foe of school vouchers for judgeship

Governor Kim Reynolds got just about everything she wanted from the Iowa legislature during the 2023 session. But she signaled this week that she isn’t ready to let bygones be bygones when it comes to Republicans who have stood in her way.

The governor’s office announced three District Court judicial appointments on June 16, including Michael Carpenter for District 8A, covering ten counties in southeast Iowa. The other person nominated for that judgeship was former State Representative Dustin Hite.

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Right-wing groups harm Iowa's "Foundation in Education"

Pat O’Donnell is a resident of Sioux Center and spent 37 years serving in Iowa public schools as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He may be reached at patnancy@zoho.com. A version of this commentary first appeared in the N’west Iowa Review.

“Foundation in Education” was the motto on the Iowa quarter issued in 2004. In my thirty-seven years serving in Iowa public schools as a teacher, principal, and superintendent, I was so proud to be an educator in a state that valued education as much as this one. 

Yet, despite what the Iowa quarter says, our state’s “Foundation in Education” is under assault.

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Educators, it's time to organize to save books

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

Book banning is nothing new for public schools. In the 1980s, I was teaching Lord of the Flies. One day, I took a call from a grandpa convinced I was ruining his granddaughter’s life by introducing her to characters like Piggy, Jack, and the gang. 

According to Grandpa, the book was porno about a bunch of boys stranded on an island who become savages.  I was happy—at least he understood the basic plot. 

But my happiness was short-lived when he called me “a dirty, commie liberal who shouldn’t be teaching.” I was 23 and didn’t know any communists, but knew I’d soon be fired.

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Iowa is better than this

Deb VanderGaast is a registered nurse and child care advocate seeking to advance state and national child care and disability policy, inclusive child care practices and improve access to quality, affordable child care for working parents. She was the 2022 Democratic nominee in Iowa Senate district 41.

Acting in private on Friday before a holiday weekend, Governor Kim Reynolds signed yet another anti-LGBTQ law Republicans passed during the 2023 legislative session.

This new law forces schools to out trans students, which puts those students’ lives and mental health at risk. It also removes a requirement for health classes to teach about HPV and HIV and bans all school library books and library materials with any sexual content, except religious texts. Not graphic content. Any sexual content.

The same bill, Senate File 496, prohibits any discussion of gender and sexual orientation in grades K-6. In addition, schools would need parental approval before they could give surveys to students related to numerous topics, including mental health issues, sex and political affiliation.

With this and other bills passed this year, Iowa Republicans stoked discrimination and hate, attacked vulnerable kids, and undermined public health.

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Iowa parents, wake up and save your schools!

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

The headline of the May 27 Bleeding Heartland post was jarring and depressing. 

When Laura Belin wrote, “Iowa schools may never recover from the 2023 legislative session,” she predicted a bleak future for Iowa and its youngsters. Devastatingly so, because these same youngsters, mostly public school students, will soon sit on school boards and in the Capitol chambers or governor’s office being charged with carrying forward the state’s business into the second half of the 21st century.

Initially, Laura takes her readers back to the glory days of Governor Robert Ray (in office 1969-1983) when refugees were welcomed and progressive legislation for public schools, students, and their teachers not only seemed possible, but actually passed. 

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