Behn’s bill a head scratcher

Lots of stuff goes on today that I don’t understand. There was plenty of that back in the day, too, but those things are not so much of a problem for me now as they were then. And I’m 77 years old, and if I don’t grasp the old stuff by now, I’m not likely to ever reel it in. It’s water under the bridge.

Today’s head-scratchers, though, seem more difficult to comprehend, and certainly harder to accept. Since I’m officially retired (Kathy would argue with that), I have more time to let them bug me.

Two movements underway in the Iowa Legislature particularly trouble me, and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about them. So I’ll vent in a column. It won’t make things more clear to me, but maybe someone who’s more knowledgeable than I has answers.

For one thing, why is it sound public policy to give public education tax dollars to support unregulated non-public education?

State Sen. Jerry Behn, of Boone, who represents Greene County, is a strong supporter of home schooling. He told our Greene County legislative forum earlier this month that his wife had taught one of their children at home years ago, and the child was soon reading at a level way above the norm for that age.

I think that’s fine. Research shows that youngsters learn in different ways, and if someone has the expertise and the time to teach a child successfully at home, the law should allow that to happen.

But the bill that Sen. Behn sponsored last year, and started out doing this year (it’s been modified in order to gain more support), would give to a home-schooling or private schooling family the equivalent amount of dollars that the state provides per student to public schools. The student’s local school district would be deprived of those dollars on a student-by-student basis.

(This year’s modification would authorize a pilot project just for special education students in non-public education venues, instead of across the board. I have not heard Sen. Behn say he intends to halt the process there in the future.)

When our kids were of school age, Kathy and I wanted our tax dollars to go to our local public schools. We knew that the teachers there, each in a separate specialty, would provide a better education than we could. And state education specialists, through the Iowa Department of Education, would see to it that our school district met accepted standards.

Some home-schooling families make the choice to have their education efforts checked by the state to assure that they’re doing right by their kids. They can also tap into services and offerings of their local public school district if they so choose.

But why should Kathy’s and my tax dollars be shunted to families who instead go completely off the grid, with no assurance that their youngsters are learning anything?

The state of Iowa tightly regulates public schools, and rightly so, to assure that research-based methods and standards are observed. 

Every year legislation is introduced to require specific courses to be taught in Iowa’s public schools, and much of it is adopted. But at the same time there’s a group of legislators who strongly defend unregulated home school education. Some legislators are in both groups.

Why should families who choose to totally go it alone get the same per-student tax resources as public schools? It doesn’t make sense.

Here’s another puzzler, at least for me. Some Republican legislators have introduced a bill to once again change voting procedures. The consensus is that it would reduce voter turnout in certain areas and among certain age groups. 

An example is the section that would increase college student voting registration requirements and ban satellite voting stations in state-owned buildings, such as Regents’ university facilities. 

Guess which party the bill would hurt, and which would benefit.

But that section would affect a specific group of voters: college students. How about one that would affect the entire state?

That would be the requirement that stipulates an earlier time for closing the polls on general election day. At present that time is 9 p.m. The bill would move that up 8 p.m.

Why do that? A sponsor of the bill explains that because municipal and school board polls close at 8 p.m., sometimes someone will show up at 8:15 at one of those elections and not be able to vote. He wants to make closing times consistent for all elections.

But he chose to move the general election closing time up to 8, rather than extend the local election time to 9. 

Last session the Republicans reduced the absentee voting period prior to election day, from 42 days before election day down to 29 days. This year’s effort appears to be another twist of the screw. 

With so many people holding down two jobs, reducing the voting window on election day would reduce the number of voters.

Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office as well. They can do pretty much whatever they want, so long as it’s legal. 

The only way this kind of stuff won’t happen is if there are enough Republican legislators, or the governor, who decide fairness trumps politics. 

In today’s political atmosphere the chances are unlikely.

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