A proposed stringent approval system of every piece of material used in all Iowa public school classrooms could cost those schools, at minimum, about $27.4 million a year, according to one state agency.
The sibling bills include sweeping reforms on Iowa’s public education system. They also divert public funds toward private schools; however, the curriculum approval aspect of the bills siphon dollars directly from district funds.
According to the bills, educators would need to provide all their textbooks, books, articles, syllabi, website links, outlines, handouts, presentations, videos, and other educational materials for documentation, review, and approval twice a year. Anything used in student instruction would need to be published on the school district’s website by Aug. 23 and again by Jan. 15.
That standard would apply to each class in the school district and materials have to be sorted by subject area, grade level, and teacher. Also, the publishing dates fall around the start of the school year and the end of winter break, so teachers would have to create lesson plans months ahead of time for each class they teach. Many educators have said such a system would be simply unworkable and would impede a teacher’s ability to adjust their lessons to their students throughout the year.
The LSA report notes this measure would have no fiscal impact on the state, but would financially burden school districts.
“The requirement of this bill to make information sortable requires an interactive database, which may be beyond the current capabilities of school district software and systems,” the report states. “Additional administrative costs may be required to support the software and systems and support internal and external users. These costs cannot be estimated and would vary by school district.”
The LSA also noted it could cost additional money to post materials online in other languages—24 languages are spoken in the Storm Lake School District for example—but it can’t estimate those costs.
The $27.4 million estimate comes from the time it would take teachers to create months of lesson plans well in advance of when they would be utilized in the classroom. That amount could also cover the average salaries of 483 Iowa teachers, according to Iowa Department of Education data.
“School districts would need to provide classroom coverage for the time teachers would need to prepare materials for posting or add additional contract days for completion of the work,” the LSA report says. “If substitutes are used rather than additional contract days, the statewide cost to school districts is estimated to be $27.4 million.”
During a Tuesday Iowa House subcommittee hearing over the House version of the bill, Margaret Buckton, legislative analyst and executive director for the Urban Education Network, argued the LSA’s $27.4 million estimate was too low.
Buckton said the LSA’s report assumes schools are able to find enough subs to cover for full-time teachers over a five-day period.
“We don’t have substitutes,” she said. “We don’t have enough to take care of illness for teachers right now. From the Urban Education Network’s perspective, we believe we are going to have to add a full week to the teacher contracts to come back to school a week early to get this done.”
Buckton, whose organization represents Iowa’s 20 largest school districts, said the true cost is closer to $54 million because the LSA estimated the cost using “substitute time” and not “teacher time.” She said “substitute time” does not exist.
Buckston also said with this potential added expense, it is not the time to use public funds for the voucher-like student-first scholarship proposals attached to the bills.
“Hopefully, we don’t create so much more that teachers aren’t willing to return,” Buckton said. “We’re short teachers and don’t believe the state can afford to pay for the competing education system given that dynamic.”
by Ty Rushing
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