Concerns about the current state policy on school open enrollment were raised to a pair of state lawmakers at a community meeting on Saturday in Emmetsburg. State Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan and State Representative Megan Hess of Spencer met with local area residents on April 13 for the final local Legislative Forum of the regular session at the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce and Iowa Welcome CenterOn the topic of Ruthven Mayor David Kirk started the education discussion by asking the lawmakers if it were true that the West Liberty School District was exempt from the state's open enrollment laws, due to the ethnic makeup of the district. While Hess and Johnson were unable to answer the question at the moment, they promised to find out the answer.
"I have a real concern about the state's Open Enrollment law," Kirk said. "Today, Open Enrollment is being used as a weapon. 33 students have open enrolled out of the Ruthven-Ayrshire district to other districts. Open Enrollment is not being used based on educational opportunities, like it was intended for. Now, it's based on the 'I'm mad at you and I'm taking my kids somewhere else' attitude."
Kirk continued. "Why can't we have a standard on Open Enrollment? We're seeing kids being used as a commodity, just for the state aid money. There are larger school districts out there that are now hoping that other smaller schools will fail so they can pick up those students, and that's just not right."
Mallard Mayor Jim Gehrt also spoke to the issue.
"If the Legislature would have mandated school size, it would have been very unpopular. Now, open enrollment seems to be forcing districts to merge," Gehrt observed. " But, it also splinters communities. Open enrollment affects everybody schools, churches, communities our way of life."
"I don't think the solution is for Des Moines to be dictating what happens in our local schools," Senator Johnson replied. "Home Rule strengthens local controls. But, there are legislators that want to set a minimum size for schools, and they come from urban areas. There are economic pressures on districts and that is something we as lawmakers have to watch down the road."
The discussion on education continued, with thoughts being offered on minimum teacher pay. Some proposals want to tie teacher pay to student achievement or experience. However, there are differing views on those ideas.
"The local control is being taken away from our schools by the state and the federal government," noted Bob Jacobson of Ruthven. "I'm not sure it's the state's responsibility to dictate teacher pay. That should be a local decision. Let's get back to where we control our own destiny."
"The problem with teacher salaries is that college costs go up four percent every year," Hess noted. "People are coming out of college and taking jobs teaching that will never be able to pay off their student loans from their salaries. We're losing our young people because of that as well as losing them to industries like Google that pay better than teaching."
"I think local people know their local teachers and how well they do, not people at the state or federal level," noted Bob Jacobson of Ruthven. "The tire meets the road here, not down there."