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Iowa House and Senate pass educational transparency bills | What is in them?

Paul Croghan, superintendent of CAM and Nodaway Valley Schools, is worried the requirements would keep teachers from using current events in class.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that could bring some big changes to Iowa schools in more ways than one.

Senate File 2369 would require school districts to publish all of their instructional materials online and also establishes a scholarship program for private schools, both of which have been priorities for Republicans this session.

The bill's new state transparency standards would require schools to publish a course syllabus or written summary of class content, how a class meets or exceeds educational standards, as well as the titles of all books, videos or other materials used in lessons.

Paul Croghan, superintendent of CAM and Nodaway Valley Schools, is worried the requirements would keep teachers from using current events in class, such as the recent EF-4 tornado in Winterset.

"It would be relevant for a science class to have something for kids to talk about right there, or be able to change that, and not have to worry about making sure we had some syllabus or some up to date website because of that," he said.

Another portion of the bill starts a "student first scholarship program," allowing families to apply for state money to pay tuition at a private school. Advocates say the bill provides families the chance to get a better education for their kids.

"The child has benefited because they get a better education, oftentimes they get an education that is can be fine-tuned to them, maybe smaller class sizes, and all kinds of things," said Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake.

Meanwhile, critics argue school districts are already struggling with a lack of funding, and that taking money away could make the problem even worse.

"Why do we want to try to fund something else if we're not going to be able to take care of our main staple, which is public education right now?" Croghan said.

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Croghan said he understands parents wanting to be involved in their kids' education but argues there are already ways to do that, and this bill would be more of a burden on rural schools like his.

"We don't say parent-teacher conferences are only twice a year. We can have parent-teacher conferences anytime, and that's what parents should understand," he said.

There is a limit to how many of those scholarships can be given out: only 10,000 students are able to receive them in a given year. Scholarships would also only be available on an annual basis, so families would have to apply for an additional scholarship each year their child remains enrolled.

The Iowa House passed their own version of the transparency bill on Tuesday.

What's different between the two? 

First, the House's version does not have anything about scholarships. The House's bill specified that a teacher's lesson plans are not instructional materials and do not need to be published. 

The Senate version does not make that distinction.

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