Republicans Said The Quiet Parts Out Loud During Voucher Debate

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Most Iowa Republican officials who supported Gov. Kim Reynolds’ private school voucher plan stuck to the script as the bill was being debated Monday and then signed into law on Tuesday. They said the bill was about “school choice,” “parental rights,” and “educational freedom,” and that they wanted to “fund students and not systems.”

But several Republicans who spoke on the House and Senate floor revealed other motivations for this year’s much more extensive—and expensive—voucher bill, citing fears about “woke” school curriculum, grooming, transgender students, COVID masking policies, and Critical Race Theory. In doing so, they made it clear that Republican legislators have bought into the widespread, far-right conspiracy theories around public schools and teachers that have dominated online and in right-wing news outlets in recent years.

It’s not that surprising when Critical Race Theory got pushed on kids,” Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Hull) said of parents upset with public schools lobbying the Governor for a voucher bill.

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Iowa made it illegal to teach Critical Race Theory two years ago, and Wheeler was hit with a point of order on the topic, with House leadership then forcing him to stick to the bill at hand.

“When you stick masks on kindergartners and parents object to it and then you tell the parents to get lost, you better believe this is going to come up,” Wheeler also said. “They are going to go to their governor, they are going to go to their state legislator and say this, ‘This is ridiculous. Help us out.’”

Wheeler seemed to reference the original Iowa Mama Bears and their mask fight with the Ankeny School District, which ended with the duo splitting in a messy and criminal fashion, and one of them losing a lawsuit against the district.

A popular talking point in the anti-public education rhetoric that has infected local, state, and national politics since 2020 is that pandemic-related school shutdowns allowed parents to see what was really being taught in schools. According to this theory, schools weren’t focusing on reading, writing, math, and science, but were instead pushing social agendas making kids hate America. 

Senate President Amy Sinclar (R-Allerton), the Senate sponsor of the bill, brought this up in her remarks.

“COVID woke them to the fact that public schools were not meeting their children’s needs,” she said. “These kids were locked out of their classrooms during the pandemic, and now moms and dads are facing the same schools trying to lock them in.”

Sen. Jesse Green (R-Harcourt) blamed “woke ideology” for parents’ concerns.

They enrolled their son into a small, local, rural public school,” Green said of a family he spoke with. “They believed that surely, the problems that urban schools face with woke ideology would not exist in their small-town environment. Unfortunately, they were wrong.”

He also said the voucher bill finally coming to fruition was because of public schools that implemented guidelines that followed state and federal laws to protect kids in the LGBTQ community.

Iowans deserve to have their children educated without violating their values. In some schools, it is policy that individuals can use the public school bathroom that aligns with a person’s gender identity rather than their undeniable biology,” Green said. “If we can’t trust some of our public schools on biology in the bathroom, what makes us believe that we can trust those same schools on biology in the classroom?”

The Linn-Mar School District became a national lightning rod because it approved an official policy to codify existing practices that respect transgender and nonbinary students’ identities at school.

“Iowa taxpayers have no choice in funding these schools where their ten-year-old-little girl must be comfortable with sharing a restroom with a boy who thinks he’s a girl,” Green continued. “This may come to a shock to my colleagues, but boys using girls’ restrooms and locker rooms is not mainstream here in Iowa.”

Sinclair also accused public schools of violating “the very foundations of our family and societal structure.” 

“I ask you: When a school—which is an extension of our state government—fails to uphold these fundamental rights of parents to direct the education and moral upbringing of their own children, what recourse does a family have?” she asked.

Green suggested those who prefer such teachings have a new option now.

“For those of you who believe that woke studies like CRT or gender studies should be taught in schools, guess what? Start your own private school now,” he said.

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake), who managed the House version of the bill, also cited Linn-Mar’s policy and LGTBQ children’s books being in public schools during his closing remarks.

“Well, maybe they don’t trust the public schools anymore,” Will said, explaining why open enrollment wasn’t a strong enough option for parents. “Have you heard about the book ‘Beyond Magenta?’ ‘Beyond Magenta’ is a book that talks about six-year-olds having sexual experiences. It’s in a half dozen schools in the state of Iowa. Have you heard of the book ‘Push?’ Again, it is a book that talks about eight-year-olds having homosexual experiences, and both of those books are very explicit.”

“Push” by Sapphire is the book the 2009 Academy-Award-winning film “Precious” is based on. The scene Wills described involves a secondary character named Jermaine who realizes she was gay at seven and kisses a girl when she turns eight. The author of “Beyond Magenta” has said her work has been “reinterpreted—misinterpreted—by paragraphs taken out of context, mostly by people who, it became apparent, had not even read the book.”

Sinclair also criticized books available in schools, but she didn’t list specific titles.

“What happens when a district’s library and classrooms contain materials that are inappropriate for the age of students, and they violate a parent’s right to direct that moral and educational upbringing of their child?” she asked.

“What happens when the resources used in classrooms and available in libraries are offensive to the very moral fabric of a family and a child?”

 

by Team Starting Line
01/25/23

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