House passes bill to loosen school requirements, including for arts and language offerings

Robin Opsahl
Iowa Capital Dispatch

Requirements for foreign language and arts offerings were among those loosened by a bill that passed the Iowa House on Thursday. (Photo by Getty Images)

Some Iowa students may have to take fewer arts and second language classes to graduate under legislation that passed the Iowa House on Thursday.

Schools could choose to offer only three units of foreign language classes instead of the current four, and only two units of fine arts instead of three under Senate File 391.

The bill also would allow:

  • Schools to hire former public librarians instead of librarians trained as teachers.

  • High school teachers to teach multiple sequential units of a subject at the same time, in the same classroom.

  • Community college instructors to teach high school classes without current restrictions.

  • Non-virtual schools to have a maximum of five days, or 30 hours, of primarily online instruction each school year.

House lawmakers passed Senate File 391 on a 62-34 vote Thursday with an amendment, following the Senate’s approval along party lines Tuesday. The bill returns to the Senate to consider the changes.

As Iowa schools grapple with staffing shortages, Republicans say Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal gives school districts more flexibility to meet the needs of their students. It’s one of multiple bills House lawmakers moved forward to address teacher shortages.

The House also unanimously passed House File 614, allowing out-of-state teachers to be more easily credentialed in Iowa, and passed legislation Wednesday expanding non-traditional teacher licensing processes.

But Democrats say the governor’s proposal to reduce or remove certain standards and requirements will not solve the problems facing public education in Iowa. Democrats failed in their attempts to increase public school funding in legislation passed earlier this session.

“I come up with the question of why would we want to lower our standards for our students and teachers?” Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said. “It may make it more flexible for administration, but is that what’s good for kids?”

The bill’s floor manager, Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Independence,  said the bill was the culmination of years of discussions with school administrators and staff.

“The whole thing for me, in closing, started at least four years ago with several discussions I had with superintendents that brought up chapter 12, and I had no idea what that was,” Johnson said. “But I said, ‘I’m listening. You have my attention.’ So a lot of these items were brought up then and it’s kind of come full circle now that we have this bill before us.”

The House removed some of the Senate-approved proposals from the bill. The original bill cut secondary language class requirements from four sequential units to two, but the House raised the requirement to three units. House lawmakers also removed proposed changes to physical education exemptions for kids in athletic extracurriculars, though schools could still grant waivers. A CPR training requirement, dropped in the original bill, was also added back.

Rep. Ken Croken, D-Davenport, asked his colleagues to consider the “end game” for education. These requirements help students become critical thinkers and global citizens, he said, and said schools have a duty to students beyond “providing them with the essential training one needs to complete a trip to the grocery store.

On the administration side, school districts would no longer be required to submit a Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, an annual report to the Iowa Department of Education proving that schools are meeting certain standards and working on the problems their district faces. School districts still must submit a report to the federal Department of Education.

Johnson said he believes these changes will help schools better meet the challenges they currently face, but that he is willing to talk about other ways to help both school staff and families in the future.

“This probably is not going to be the last discussion that we have in terms of flexibility for schools and for those that are teaching our children,” Johnson said.




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