Crozier says Central Lee may have to start denying some open enrollment requests due to space, staffing
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – An 11th hour passage of a bill that eliminates the annual open enrollment deadline in Iowa’s public schools drew criticism from county public school leaders Wednesday.
The final version of the bill was introduced Tuesday night in the House and the Senate to allow open enrollment transfers from one public school to any other public school at any time during the school year if there’s room available at the accepting school.
The bill still requires the signature of Gov. Kim Reynolds. Republican legislators were unable to rally enough votes to pass one of Reynolds’ top priorities which was an effort to establish scholarships using some state funds to pay for private school expenses.
State Rep. Martin Graber said the open enrollment issue kind of came out of nowhere but was spurred by a video that got around the capital building about a transgender party held in Ankeny on a Sunday on public school property.
“Some administrator somewhere authorized that and it needs to be investigated,” Graber said.
He also referenced a transgender policy in place in the Linn-Mar school district that allows a student to declare what gender they identify with as early as seventh grade and parents aren’t required to be notified.
Graber said those types of allowances in public schools hit at the heart of the new bill in front of the governor.
“Why this makes sense to me is now you have the March 1 (deadline), and you have the Ankeny thing that just happened. I’m past March 1 so I can’t change anything. My kids are now locked into that school for another year,” he said.
But Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier, whose district has seen success with open enrollment, said the bill creates budgeting and planning issues for all public schools.
“We have been successful, but we have to plan carefully. The March 1 deadline has helped us recognize when we have spikes in residency and open enrollment and we have to factor those in,” Crozier said.
“It can be very challenging with Kindergarten classes where there’s not much wiggle room to accept more open enrolled students.”
Crozier said he could see where the Central Lee district might have to put a policy in place to limit the number of students that open enroll now, because it’s harder to see coming and more students would require additional teachers.
“Obviously there are challenges with the labor market in education. We can’t just go hire a teacher at any level, they just aren’t out there. And putting an aide in a classroom doesn’t help with the size issue either,” he said.
“And thirdly, physical space becomes an issue as well. It will be the wild, wild west of public education and I have some doubts we can keep up with that. We’re going to have put in a policy to control that.
“We may have to look at denying open enrollment at some point in the future.”
Crozier said it also seems a bit odd that with the legislature recessed for more than 30 days because they couldn’t come to terms on vouchers, during that time no legislator brought up the open enrollment deadline, no specifics on the bill were discussed, and no one reached out to school boards.
“To do those things in the middle of the night is not how good bills get passed.”
Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said she too isn’t aware of any discussion or debate on the bill prior to its passage.
“To my knowledge, there wasn’t any public discourse and was acted upon without notice or comment to advocacy groups, school districts, or the public,” Slater said.
She said the bill doesn’t give proper consideration to districts’ budgets and how the enrollment changes can immediately impact those resources.
“When 80-85% of a school district’s budget is spent staffing for classrooms and programming, adding a potential variable of enrollment fluctuations throughout the year is not best practice in allocating taxpayer dollars,” Slater said.
“This could potentially impact the stability of a child’s education if students are open enrolled and then un-open enrolled throughout the year.”
District 100 State Representative candidate Rebecca Bowker (D-Fort Madison), who will oppose Graber in November, called the move partisan politics.
“It does not surprise anyone that there was no inclusiveness or public debate on this topic. This is a pattern of behavior that needs to stop. It will only be rectified with votes in November,” Bowker wrote in a text to Pen City Current.
“Open enrollment deadlines are in place so schools can adequately prepare budgets and adjust staffing levels. This is another attack on schools, that will ultimately affect small school systems.”
Attempts to reach Sen. Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose), who also voted in favor of the measure, were unsuccessful as of this posting.