Home- and Church-Education Showdown Looms in Iowa

By Peter Schmidt — April 26, 1989 3 min read
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After five years of debate, members of the Iowa House last week passed a bill that they say represents their final attempt at compromise with families that seek for religious reasons to teach their children at home or in church-affiliated schools that employ uncertified teachers.

By a 64-to-33 vote, the House approved legislation patterned on a program in Des Moines that would permit home education under the supervision of local certified teachers.

Currently, the Des Moines school district oversees 50 home schools with a total of 90 students. Jan L. Drees, the program’s coordinator, said very few parents have objected to the district’s approach.

“If they are committed to home schooling, we would really rather help them be successful than be antagonistic to them,” Ms. Drees said.

House members, however, drew the line on the issue of church schools, authorizing fines and court-ordered community service--but4not jail terms--for unlicensed teachers and administrators in such institutions.

The new penalties would become effective on July 1, when a one-year moratorium on the prosecution of home educators and unlicensed schools approved by the legislature last year ends.

The House action heavily amended a more lenient bill approved earlier by the Senate.

That measure would require home educators to seek the help of certified teachers only if their children fare poorly on annual state tests. It also would allow church schools to hire people with bache8lor’s degrees as teachers.

“For the large bulk of the people who want to educate their children at home, this will fulfill their needs,” said Representative Art Ollie, chairman of the House education committee, of his chamber’s bill.

“We feel that we have at least a working majority that is willing to support this concept,” Mr. Ollie said. “There is a reasonably good chance that the Senate will accept what we have done.”

But Senator Larry G. Murphy, chairman of the Senate education committee, was less optimistic about the future of the House amendments in the Senate.

“The bill is dead,” he said, if the Senate votes to reject the proposed regulation of home education, or if representatives object to an expected attempt in the Senate to restore provisions to ease teacher-licensing rules for church schools.

Members of both chambers, Mr. Murphy added, are not eager to send the bill to a conference committee.

The House amendments haveel10lcome under fire from legislative supporters of home and church education. Senator Ray A. Taylor, a Republican representing rural north-central Iowa, called the House bill “totally unacceptable to the people who are affected by it.”

Senator William W. Dieleman, a Democrat from Pella who teaches in private schools, said it would be too costly for the state to reimburse districts that would have to monitor home schools closely.

He added that the House bill would create an artificial barrier between home and church education, issues that he said are philosophically intertwined.

“The responsibility to educate is up to the parents,” Senator Dieleman said. “The fact that we have built such high barriers to alternative education here in the state, probably higher than any other state in the Union, has to be addressed.”

Lobbyists for home educators and church schools were unusually gentle in their criticism of the House measure.

Alan P. Baumgartel, chairman of Iowa Home Educators Association, said he viewed the bill with “cautious optimism.” He added, however, that many home schoolers probably would resist attempts by school districts to become too involved with the education of their children.

The Rev. M. Wayne Denton, the pastor of a Baptist church in Keokuk who lobbied heavily on behalf of about 50 church schools last year, expressed confidence that the final bill passed by the legislature would permit unlicensed teachers in such schools and would be “a step forward.”

Leaders on both sides of the issue say the debate this year was less heated than in past years, when rallies by home and church educators were a common sight in the capital.

Mr. Denton said he deliberately “kept the troops quiet” in exchange for a pledge from House and Senate leaders to seek passage of a bill favorable to church schools.

Senator Murphy also suggested that backers of alternative education may have realized they cannot win by being combative.

Deregulated home and private education “is not an issue that has a lot of sympathy in the political arena,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 26, 1989 edition of Education Week as Home- and Church-Education Showdown Looms in Iowa


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