Open Enrollment Bill Advances To Override Diversity Plan Concerns

A bill that would stop five Iowa school districts from pointing to voluntary diversity plans as a reason to deny student transfers advanced Thursday through another legislative subcommittee.

Under current law, Des Moines, Davenport, Postville, Waterloo and West Liberty superintendents can deny requests for open enrollment of a student from one district to another if the transfer will adversely affect the district’s voluntary diversity plan to maintain economic and language equity.

This bill would end that, along with barring school districts with court-ordered desegregation from refusing transfers. The Republican-led House in February passed this legislation, which was on Thursday advanced by Senate Republicans.

“I don’t think that five school districts should be treated any different than the other school districts we have,” said Republican Sen. Brad Zaun on the virtual subcommittee. “And I believe in the open enrollment and what we’re doing and I’m ready to sign onto this bill.”

Des Moines Public Schools, the largest district in the state and one that uses a voluntary diversity plan, is opposed to the new legislation. The GOP-controlled Iowa government has clashed frequently with the district this session.

“This notion that no one is allowed to open enroll out of Des Moines I want to put to rest,” said Des Moines Public Schools’ lobbyist Christopher Rants.

“The reality is, we’re approving on average, 75% of the open enrollment requests to move out of the district. The reason why school districts try to address and would like to keep this law in place is because we know that successful kids help other kids be successful.”

Democrat Rep. Cindy Winckler of Davenport, who represents one of the five Iowa school districts with a diversity plan, said on the House floor in early February that she’s been told by school officials that open enrollment out of the district has “slanted” toward upper-income families.

“By eliminating the diversity plan, we eliminate options and opportunities our students have,” Winckler said.


by Isabella Murray
Posted 3/11/21

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