By Tom Chapman
An education reform bill being debated in the Iowa House raises concerns from the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). The main objection is the bill’s expansion of the core curriculum. Implementation of the current core subjects of English, math, science and social studies still needs to be completed and evaluated.
The ICC supports additional opportunities in online learning, competency-based instruction and an alternative path to teacher licensure. But the bill (HF 2380) either weakens or totally eliminates each of these areas compared to previous versions.
HF 2380 also would implement additional charter schools without an equal measure of nonpublic school choice, a move the ICC objects to. In other states, charter school initiatives have led to the closure of private schools, as parents see an alternative to the regular public school that is “free.”
The ICC is encouraging nonpublic school supporters to participate in “Education Celebration” at the state capitol on March 21. The main event starts at noon on the first floor rotunda. Speakers will include Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, and Sen. Daryl Beall, a Democrat from Fort Dodge. The event is sponsored by the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education.
In other legislative news:
• The ICC expects the House to pass HF 2429. The ICC opposes this bill because of provisions which create a new crime, stealing the identity of a fictitious person, and increases existing penalties for all identity theft violations to a felony. While identity theft is an extremely serious matter, this bill would have the effect of automatic deportation of some migrants for crimes against a person who does not exist.
• A Senate bill (SF 2275) legalizing poker over the Internet and sponsored by casinos in Iowa, raises ICC objections as an unwarranted expansion of gambling in the state that will result in more problem gamblers and therefore more problems for families.
• House Study Bill 665, which the ICC supports, would create a tax credit for 20 percent of a taxpayer’s contribution to a nonprofit regenerative medicine clinic in the state. The bill would be of benefit to the John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute, which focuses on reducing the barriers of translating basic stem cell research into clinical research for curing disease.
• HF 2390 would expand the definition of human trafficking and has the support of the ICC. The expanded definition would include knowingly purchasing or attempting to purchase services involving commercial sexual activity from a victim or another person engaged in human trafficking.
A state conference last fall on human trafficking revealed that while forced labor and sexual exploitation continues overseas, it is much more prevalent in Iowa than many people think. Trafficking in persons is the fastest-growing criminal activity and is on the same scale of gun-running and drugs. Visit the ICC Action Center at www.capwiz.
com/iowanasccd and send a message to the Senate Judiciary Committee leadership in support of the bill. HF 2390 passed the House unanimously last week.
The ICC continues to ask state senators to consider House File 657, the late-term abortion ban, and HJR 6, a state constitutional amendment to recognize marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Messages to senators on these bills would be appreciated.
• The ICC recommends opposition to House Joint Resolution 2010, a proposed state constitutional amendment which would require a balanced budget in Iowa and a 60 percent vote of the legislature before changing the state income or sales tax. The conference has opposed this proposal several times over the last decades. Iowa currently is required by statute to have a balanced budget. The statute has proved effective. In addition, this amendment would make it more difficult for legislators to act when a tax increase or decrease might be called for to serve the common good.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference are asking for support of a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers and promotes stewardship of the land. They also urge that this Farm Bill target limited resources, such as subsidies and direct payments, to those farmers and ranchers who truly need assistance to be competitive and successful. Visit the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s website at www.ncrlc.com for the full letter.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)