The Senate passed several education bills in debate and floor action this week. One of these bills was House File 847, referred to as the “Education Omnibus” bill. This legislation gives school boards more budget flexibility, provides parents more choice and say in their children’s education, and includes more accountability measures for local school boards. It also increases from $250 to $500 the annual amount of classroom expenditures Iowa elementary and secondary school teachers may deduct from gross income for income tax purposes. And it expands the Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit by doubling the allowed expense amount to $2,000 per qualified student and also extending the credit to families utilizing private instruction.
This year I have received many, many complaints from parents in certain public schools that are teaching extremely controversial curriculum to students. I have talked at length with a 25-year teacher who resigned from his job because he was being forced to teach material he profoundly disagrees with. In response to these concerns the Senate passed HF 802, a bill that prohibits training of certain concepts in higher education institutions, K-12 schools, and state and local governments. These concepts include race and sex stereotyping, race and sex scapegoating, and other things. The purpose of this bill is to affirm that individual worth and respect is dependent on the character of a person rather than their skin color, sex or gender.
Another important education bill the Senate passed is House File 813, establishing changes to the charter school program in Iowa. We have heard a lot of feedback on this issue, but like many issues this year, there is a great deal of misinformation about what this bill does and what charter schools can do. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools, open to all students, and provide greater flexibility to serve a diverse and changing student population. They promote innovation within the classroom and flexibility with resource allocation. They also empower teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction by giving them the autonomy to design a classroom that fits the needs of their students.
Public charter schools have the highest level of accountability of any type of public school as they operate under performance contracts and can be closed if they don’t meet expectations. The bill requires the charter application to provide information on how they plan to accommodate under-served students. The bill also prohibits charter schools from discriminating against students in any way.
The Senate Commerce Committee passed a bill this week forbidding what has become known as vaccine passports in Iowa. Senate File 610 forbids the inclusion of vaccination status information on a government-issued ID, and forbids businesses and Iowa government entities from requiring vaccination as a condition for access to their premises. This bill would not apply to employees of these entities and would not apply to health care facilities. It also still allows the use of COVID-19 screenings in these entities. The reason for this bill is because of increasing concern about requirements to show proof of vaccination in order to shop, go to sporting events, or other routine activities in our daily lives.
I continue to receive a lot of messages about this issue from constituents with legitimate concerns about privacy and constitutional rights. For the record, I received my second vaccination shot this week because I personally believe that it’s important that everyone be vaccinated, especially those of us with a higher risk status. I also believe that there are a number of reasons a person should not have to show this piece of medical data, including personal privacy and individual freedom. In my view, SF 610 is a work in progress that will need some changes before it’s acceptable.
On Wednesday Governor Kim Reynolds signed the broadband legislation sent to her by the House and the Senate. The bill changes the broadband facility expansion grant program to set new matching percentages for grants, establish new minimum service speeds for qualifying projects, and change certain factors used in evaluating grant applications. The legislature and the governor have agreed to dedicate $100 million to broadband and expanding access in the state.
It’s that time of the legislative session that negotiations take place between the House, Senate and governor to find agreement on some of the toughest issues. Senate Republicans remain committed to three important tax bills. We believe that our bill that removes $100 million from the property tax burden of taxpayers while increasing mental health funding merits passage in the House. Also, the bills that eliminate the “death tax” and remove the income tax cut triggers should also be passed. Please let your legislators know where you stand on these and other issues as we wind down the 2021 legislative session.