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Bill seeks to eliminate state Department of Education, put more responsibility on Iowa Board of regents

BY KRISTEN EAST | FEBRUARY 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Republican legislators say a bill that would eliminate the Iowa Department of Education and the state Board of Education will lead to more discussion about the quality of students' education.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, said the bill — filed Tuesday by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, — recognizes the failures of the state's Education Department.

"It seems that the consolidation at the state level, as opposed to making education more efficient for the students of Iowa, has been detrimental both in quality of education and local control of officials at school," said Chelgren, a cosponsor of the bill.

According to the proposal, most of the Education Department's current responsibilities would be transferred to the Department of Human Services.

The bill would also place a significant amount of authority in the hands of the state Board of Regents and the Board of Directors for Community Colleges. According to the proposal, the regents would handle responsibilities such as teacher-qualification requirements and waiver provisions.

Regent Robert Downer said though he hasn't looked at Zaun's bill, the regents aren't looking for any additional responsibilities at this time.

"I think the Board of Regents has a lot on its plate right now with the various things that are going on in the universities," Downer said. "… We're not looking to take over responsibilities that are currently invested in the state education."

GOP presidential-nomination candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has called for the elimination of the federal Department of Education. Paul has said he'd like to see education handled at the local level.

"In a free society, the responsibility is on the parents … It should be on the parents," Paul told Boise Weekly on Feb. 18. "The founders didn't immediately set up public schools. The idea that there would be less education or worse education is just a fallacy."

Similar to Paul's plans, Zaun's bill focuses on giving parents more options to be actively involved in their children's education, Chelgren said.

One Paul supporter thinks the state Department of Education, in some ways, mirrors the federal agency.

Blake Whitten, a University of Iowa statistics lecturer and faculty adviser for UI Youth for Ron Paul, said he hasn't studied the state Education Department, but he believes education is best done locally.

"Even at the local level, my guess would be that a state department of education is more of a bureaucracy that hinders education," he said.

But Jason Glass, the director of the state Department of Education, said there are no examples that prove Zaun's proposal would be effective.

"I think Sen. Zaun's proposal is an ideologically driven overreaction," Glass said.

Glass also said state funds delegated through the department to Iowa schools would have to be determined by another department.

Iowa senators also don't believe the bill will survive much longer, and Sam Roecker — the Iowa Democratic Party's communications director — declared the bill won't get Democratic support.

Though Republicans may favor the bill because of Zaun's stance on education issues, Roecker said.

"This isn't just some random senator," he said. "When he introduces a bill, it's not just one person introducing a bill. If [Republicans] don't support this, they at least support the goal of this bill."

But not all Republicans would support the bill.

Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, said he has no intention of supporting the legislation.

"At this time, abolishing the very thing that we're using to fulfill a larger education-reform package … we shouldn't be trying to abolish it," he said.


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