State Departments of Education Should Explain Legal Basis for Mandates on Schools

A bill in the Iowa Senate would require the Iowa Department of Education to identify their statutory or regulatory authority for any request for reports made of school districts. Photo Credit: Ashton B. Crew (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Iowa State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, told me in an email, “I’ve had several superintendents and principals asking me why they are completing so many reports, especially after we passed school district home rule last year.”

The home rule act, HF 573, passed the Iowa House and Senate last session and was signed into law by former Governor Terry Branstad. It simply reads:

The board of directors of a school district shall operate, control, and supervise all public schools located within its district boundaries and may exercise any broad and implied power, not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly and administrative rules adopted by state agencies pursuant thereto, related to the operation, control, and supervision of those public schools.

The new law really isn’t a boon for local control, in my opinion, because there is still so much the state dictates to local school districts. This does mean, however, that the Iowa Department of Education can’t keep piling on mandated reports, etc. without specific law or an administrative rule giving them that authority. Which, apparently, they are still doing.

So the question that State Senator Sinclair kept getting from school administrators is eye-opening.

So she offered a bill. ” I figured requiring the DE to cite the legal authority for gathering the information wasn’t too much to ask. And if there is no legal authority, then maybe they won’t require the report,” she told me in an email.

They may still try to require it, but without specific authority, a school could politely ignore the request.

The bill she offered is SSB 3001. It requires the director of the department of education to cite the state or federal statute, rule, or regulation necessitating the inclusion of information in any report which the department requires a school district, area education agency, and accredited nonpublic school, or the officers or employees of such entities to submit.

The bill that was introduced by Sinclair in the Senate Education Committee was assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senators Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), Jeff Elder (R-State Center), and Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids).

I think it’s safe to say this bill should pass, and frankly, it is common sense. State Departments of Education should have to cite the law or regulation whether state or federal that gives them the authority to require anything from a local school district.

Iowa Lawmaker Pushes for “Home Rule” for Local Schools

I reported at Caffeinated Thoughts last week about different education bills impacting K-12 education that has been filed in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate. Here are a few of the bills that concern our issues.

House Joint Resolution 3 – This bill filed by State Representative Jake Highfill (R-Johnston) proposes a constitutional amendment “to provide home rule powers and authority for school districts.”

It also adds, “The home rule powers cannot be inconsistent with state law and the power to levy  any tax is limited to those taxes expressly authorized by the general assembly. If the power or authority of a school district conflicts with the power and authority of a municipal corporation, county, or joint county-municipal corporation government, the power and authority exercised by a municipal corporation, county, or joint county-municipal corporation government shall prevail within the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation, county, or joint county-municipal corporation government.”

So it returns a lot of power over education policy back to school districts. If passed it will have to be passed again during the 88th General Assembly before Iowans can vote on it.

I have to say I very, very jazzed about this bill. This, if passed into Iowa’s Constitution, could be a game changer in truly returning control of education policy back to duly elected school boards.

House File 26 – This bill was also filed by Highfill and it also deals with home rule, but it does it in the Iowa Code, not the state constitution. The bill authorizes a school board to exercise any broad or implied power, not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly, related to the operation, control, and supervision of the public schools located within its district boundaries. However, the authority does not encompass the power to levy any tax unless expressly authorized by the general assembly. Statutes relating to school boards and school districts shall be liberally construed to effectuate the authority granted under the bill.

Again, this is a great bill.

Senate File 30 – This was filed by State Senator Brad Zaun. This bill eliminates references and requirements to the Iowa Common Core or core curriculum or core content standards in the Iowa Code, but continues to direct the state board of education to adopt high school graduation requirements and assessment standards. It also creates a new task force for the development of a new assessment.

This bill was assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senator Craig Johnson (R-Independence), Rita Hart (D-Wheatland), and Tim Kraayanbrink (R-Ft. Dodge). The Iowa Department of Education, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, Iowa Association of School Boards, and Iowa State Education Association have registered against the bill.

Zaun also filed another bill of concern, Senate File 29, which eliminates the Iowa Department of Education, and creates an education savings account. Our readership has varied opinions on school choice measures, but it’s not likely the Iowa Senate will pass a bill eliminating the state department of education – especially when the Iowa Constitution does give the state a role in providing public education.

I know with certainty there will be additional bills forthcoming including a stronger Common Core repeal bill so stay tuned.