The Back-to-School Issue
Keeping Kids Safe in School
As kids head back to school this week, COVID cases are again on the rise, and many parents are concerned about the safety of their children.
Data released last week found positive COVID cases in Iowa have risen 72% over the last two weeks and hospitalizations have increased 85% over the last week. With the rise in the Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status”. The guidelines are based on the latest research that shows a vaccinated person can spread COVID-19 and is less likely to show symptoms.
Instead of working with local schools on prevention measures to stop the spread of COVID, Governor Reynolds and GOP lawmakers banned schools from following the CDC guidelines designed to keep kids safe.
Democratic lawmakers are calling on Governor Reynolds to immediately issue an emergency proclamation and do the following to keep kids safe when they return to school this week:
- Accept $95 million in federal funding to increase testing in schools
- Return to daily reporting of COVID positive cases and hospitalizations
- Allow every school to follow the latest CDC guidelines, including masks and contact tracing
Iowa is one of just eight states that prevents schools from following CDC guidelines in schools.
Another Year of Low Funding and New Changes for Iowa Schools
After a decade of historically low funding and two difficult years dealing with COVID, Iowa schools will have to do more with less again this school year.
While Majority Party lawmakers claimed strong support for public schools, the total increase in state funding this year for many school districts was significantly less. This is because the formula used for funding did not count students who were learning differently due to COVID. Many parents or guardians chose to have their kids taught online or home schooled instead of enrolling them in school. Overall, the count used in the formula decreased by 6,000 students and had a huge disproportionate impact on school funding.
House Democrats proposed a plan last session to increase basic funding for schools, called State Supplemental Aid (SSA), to help students make up for lost time in the classroom and cover the drop in enrollment.
Other Educational Changes Iowans Should Know About
Pledge of Allegiance Required: At the start of the new school year, students will be required to recite the pledge of allegiance in grades 1-12 each school day with a flag displayed in each classroom. Per HF 847, a student shall not be compelled against the student’s objections or those of the student’s parent or guardian to recite the pledge. This also follows the U.S. Supreme Court decision, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
Elimination of Diversity Plans: Education studies have shown that high concentrations of low-income students can affect student achievement. Some Iowa school districts have used Voluntary Diversity Plans to boost achievement among all students. Five districts in Iowa had Voluntary Diversity plans that use factors like a student’s socioeconomic status or English language learner status to balance their enrollment. Those plans are now nullified and students can now open-enroll.
Changes Allow Superintendents to Determine Eligibility: Prior to HF 847, Iowa law deterred students from transferring solely for athletics reasons through a “sit time” rule of 90-days. Now under Iowa’s new law, superintendents of the two representing districts or private school administrators can agree to waive the “sit time.” The concern is that this now eliminates a statewide eligibility standard. School authorities could agree to swap students based on athletic abilities.
Iowa’s Charter School Law Expanded
Despite bipartisan opposition, the Legislature expanded Iowa’s charter school law during the 2021 Legislative Session. Research shows that charter schools have failed on a national scale, with multiple corruption scandals and lower standards than our Iowa public schools. The charter school plan in HF 813 would shift money from public schools to unaccountable, out-of-state, privately-run charter schools.
Multiple proposals were rejected during the debate. One would have protected tax payers by having the institutions bonded, and another prevented the governing board of a charter school from being compensated by the school. Also, a private company could locate a charter school anywhere in the state without local school board approval.
The Iowa State Board of Education has to wade through all the regulations of the complex law and develop criteria in an application process. They have indicated that they will develop the process during 2022, which at least initially will slow the development of charter schools. An approved charter school will likely not open until the 2023-24 school year.
Food Insecurity Helped by SNAP Increase
To help prevent food insecurity across the nation, the Biden Administration has implemented the largest single increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits (SNAP) to date. Beginning October 1, 2021, the average monthly SNAP benefit will increase by $36.24 per person, or $1.20 per day. This is on top of the 15% increase that the Biden Administration instituted through September 30th of this year.
During a pandemic, people often worry about keeping themselves and their family healthy and being able to keep their jobs. Unfortunately, many Iowans also deal with food insecurity and may lack the financial resources to feed themselves and their families. Food insecurity can lead to many long-term consequences like obesity, developmental problems, and overall negative effects on mental health.
In 2018, it was estimated that 1 in 10 Iowans struggled with food insecurity and more than a third of that number were children. In 2020, those rates were 33% higher for all Iowans and 44% higher for children. Much of the increase is coming from people who have never been to a food bank before.
To apply for food assistance in Iowa, visit: dhsservices.iowa.gov/apspssp/ssp.portal. If you believe your current benefit amount needs to be updated, call the Call Center at 1-877-347-5678. Iowans who need food assistance can also call 2-1-1 to connect with food banks in their area.
Stay Alert When Driving this School Year
With kids going back to school, buses will be out on the roads making stops and picking up students. Drivers must stop for school buses with flashing lights and their side stop sign out. Once the students are on the bus, the bus driver will pull in the stop sign and drivers can proceed with caution. Drivers who pass a stopped school bus can face a fine and risk having their license suspended for 30 days.
Road construction in Iowa is still in full swing. A reminder to drivers to move over for construction equipment and follow all signs while in a construction zone. Iowa’s move over law requires drivers to move over, or slow down if a shift in lanes cannot be done, for all vehicles with flashing emergency lights including any stationary motor vehicle that has its hazard lights flashing. Drivers who fail to move over or slow down risk being fined.
More Iowa News
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR TO PROTECT FAIR REDISTRICTING MAPS: With the release of redistricting data by the U.S. Census Bureau states all across the country will begin their redistricting process. While there are various methods throughout the country, Iowa stands alone as the only state in the country that does not allow political influence to impact new legislative districts. For that very reason Iowa has long prided itself on being the “gold standard” for drawing legislative maps. As the new redistricting process begins it is vitally important that the state keeps the current process free of political interference to ensure all Iowans have a voice in their representation. Please contact your legislator and urge them to support and maintain Iowa’s fair redistricting. You can find your legislator here: legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find.
“BUILD IOWA’S FUTURE” DESIGN CHALLENGE: A new opportunity is available for K-12 students to be creative and compete in the “Build Iowa’s Future Design Challenge” for up to $1,000 in awards for their school. To participate in the Home Design Challenge, elementary students must construct a model home using materials such as toy plastic construction bricks, wood blocks and a variety of other materials of their choice. High school students may participate in the Iowa Dream and Design Challenge that could improve their community, such as a school athletic storage facility, a ramp for a home or a birdhouse. Teachers are invited to submit a form letter of intent to participate on the Clearinghouse website by Sept. 29, 2021. To learn more about the design challenge, go to: clearinghouse.futurereadyiowa.gov/challenge.
EXTREME DROUGHT RETURNS TO PORTIONS OF THE STATE: Areas of extreme drought reached the highest levels in the state in nearly a year. The US Drought Mitigation Center has designated almost 7% of the state in Extreme Drought. Even with normal to above normal rainfall across much of the state in the last month, the most recent drought monitor map for the state shows 75% of the state in some form of dryness or drought. Streamflows across one-third of the state remain below normal. There are increased concerns for shallow groundwater in North Central and Central Iowa. Unless precipitation increases soon there could be restrictions on at least 20 irrigators that use surface water around the state. Nationally, Iowa is currently on the edge of low soil moisture levels around the country. Generally, there are significantly lower soil moisture levels to the west and north of the state and wetter than normal conditions in the south and east. The most recent Iowa Crop Progress & Condition report for the state of Iowa shows 82% of the subsoil in the Northwest being short or very short and 77% of the soil in the west and central part of the state. Soil levels are better in the southern third of the state.