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IA Bill Decried as Attack on School Diversity Plans

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A total of five public school districts in Iowa, including Davenport, Des Moines and Waterloo, have adopted diversity plans to shield against too many students leaving for other districts. (Adobe Stock)
A total of five public school districts in Iowa, including Davenport, Des Moines and Waterloo, have adopted diversity plans to shield against too many students leaving for other districts. (Adobe Stock)
February 12, 2021

DES MOINES, Iowa - Several Iowa school districts have plans in place to help keep their student populations diverse. Supporters of those plans say a bill in the legislature would be a setback, while others say families need a voice in determining where their children attend school.

House File 288, which has cleared the Iowa House, would no longer let districts deny an open-enrollment request as a way to reach goals for socioeconomic and language diversity.

Mike Owen - deputy director of the nonpartisan public-policy group Common Good Iowa - said it would leave certain school districts, especially those in communities of color, at a disadvantage.

"The money follows the student," said Owen. "Both state money, and local property-tax funding."

He said if too many students leave, a district's economic base will erode.

But Rep. Dustin Hite - R-Mahaska County - a supporter of the bill, argues in a statement that, "School districts need to understand they're here for the students. The students are not here for the districts."

The bill is now in the state Senate. It's a component of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds' education plan.

In response to arguments about family needs, Owen contended that school diversity plans are about putting students and their surrounding communities above all else.

"This makes sure that you're not losing the sense of community that is enriched by a school," said Owen.

He said students can benefit from learning alongside others from different racial backgrounds, especially those adapting to the English language.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has issued estimates on how much funding districts with diversity plans could lose if the bill passes. For example, the Des Moines district could lose as much as $1.5 million dollars.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - IA