Iowa gubernatorial candidates focus on future of public education

Candidates for governor focusing on public schools are far from new.

But in the Iowa gubernatorial race, both candidates have spent considerable time on the campaign trail discussing their plans for the future of education in Iowa, as issues such as vaccine and mask mandates, book bans and state funding increasingly diverge .

While Gov. Kim Reynolds hasn’t spent much time discussing her policy goals during her re-election campaign, she has made education a top priority. In campaign speeches and ads, she has highlighted how her administration is working to reopen public schools for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa schools returned to in-person learning earlier than many other states, when she signed an order in July 2020 requiring students to spend at least half their time in class. She signed legislation in 2021 requiring school districts to offer full-time classroom options to parents who request it.

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Parents having a greater say in their children’s education is a recurring theme in the gubernatorial campaign.

“We’re going to put parents back in charge of their children’s education,” Reynolds told supporters at a rally for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson in August.

Calls for ‘parental controls’ in schools

Reynolds said parents’ decision to wear masks and get vaccinated at school was “common sense.” The idea goes beyond COVID-19 policy: She also called for parents to have a greater say in how schools treat transgender students.

The discussions in Iowa came after the Linn-Mar Community School District adopted a policy on identities in schools.

The policy states that students can decide whether their parents or guardians will participate in the school’s Gender Support Program Meeting.

The governor cited these public school policies as another reason Iowa should support her voucher proposal. Reynolds said in May that families needed more options when it came to education, and those options should not be limited if parents couldn’t afford to transfer their children to private schools.

“I think that’s one of the reasons I think parents need to choose,” Reynolds said. “If they feel their children are not being educated in a safe environment, or they feel that their values ​​are not being reflected in the school, or they feel that the district is not focused on quality education.”

At a recent fundraiser, Reynolds highlighted legislation she signed into law earlier this year that bars transgender girls and women from competing on women’s teams at most of Iowa’s public schools and colleges.

“When we campaigned for girls for girls, they called it discrimination,” she said. “The Iowa Democratic Party has lost sight of hard-working Iowans, and if elected, all of the things we’ve done over the last four years will go away.”

Earlier this month, Johnston’s parent, Michelle Veach, wore a shirt that read “We are not co-parenting with the government”. One of the main reasons she supports the governor, she said, is that some materials taught or offered in public schools are not suitable for children.

As a parent of Johnston Public Schools children, Veach has spoken at several meetings of the Johnston School Board, where she read The Hate You Give and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Excerpts from books in high school English courses. When Reynolds and other parents visited the Iowa State Capitol to discuss school books and other inappropriate content, Reynolds took their concerns seriously, she said.

“She listened to her parents and worked with us as much as possible,” Veach said. “We want to be the authority on our children’s education, our schools work for us. And we’ve lost that in our culture.”

Democrats call for more funding

Reynolds highlighted issues such as remote learning as a major problem in Iowa public schools. But her opponent, Democrat Deidre DeJear, said the problem was insufficient funding.

On the campaign trail, Dejere and other Iowa Democrats have repeatedly pledged to bring Iowa back to its status as the top state for education, an honor that has slipped in recent years. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report state education rankings, Iowa was ranked 18th.

“We know Iowa doesn’t belong to us, and it’s not what our kids deserve,” Dejer told the crowd this summer.

She said the decline was due to the state government’s failure to match the increase in education funding with the rise in inflation. The state legislature this year approved a 2.5 percent increase in Iowa’s per-student education funding, which Democrats say will neither keep pace with inflation nor make up for the underfunding of previous years. She told the Des Moines Chronicle that she supports allocating $300 million from Iowa’s budget surplus so that it can be spent on education and cover the funding deficit.

Iowa’s public universities are also facing funding shortfalls. The Iowa State Board of Regents raised annual tuition fees at three Iowa public colleges by more than $300 this year as the state legislature approved only a $5.5 million increase in general aid while schools face $7 million in 2020 post-cut requirements An increase of $15 million. Student activists say tuition hikes could deter some Iowans from going to college.

The governor also discussed college costs on the campaign trail as she opposes President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief plan. Reynolds and Republican attorneys general in five other states filed a lawsuit in September challenging the Department of Education’s authority to forgive student loans.

Reynolds said bearing the cost of higher education was a personal choice, and the plan would force taxpayers to shoulder that burden.

In a statement about the lawsuit, Reynolds said: “By forcing them to pay other people’s loans — regardless of income — President Biden’s massive debt cancellation punishes these Americans and devalues ​​the path they’ve chosen. “

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news bureaus and a coalition of donors, a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. For questions, please contact editor Kathie Obradovich: Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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