When the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person learning in March 2020, interest in virtual schools skyrocketed. One of two virtual schools in the state, Iowa Virtual Academy opened in 2012 with 61 students, and as of the end of last school year served about 540 students, said Steve Hoff, principal of Iowa Virtual Academy, based in Guttenberg in northeast Iowa in the Clayton Ridge School District.
How do educators at 34 Iowa schools feel about spending the past year hearing elected officials say they are running “failing schools”? Leaders at 13 schools explained the shortcomings of the metric that assigned them the “failing” label, as well as the unique challenges students and staff confronted — even before legislation introduced at the Statehouse singled them out as places where families could get state assistance to leave, they told IowaWatch. “Failing schools” is hyperbole for schools designated by the state as “comprehensive.” These are the Title I schools that score in the bottom 5 percent in the state based on students’ performance on the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress test, and/or for high schools, have a graduation rate below 67.1 percent. IowaWatch in a year-long investigation found that although each state is required to identify the bottom-scoring 5 percent of Title I schools every three years, it doesn’t mean these schools are “failing.”
A common misconception is that all schools are the same, said Jason Aker, principal of Baxter Elementary School in Baxter. “‘Thirty-four failing schools’ is a really crummy way of saying that, because the answer is simple; it’s the bottom 5 percent.
Principal Chris Myers sought to make mental health counseling available to students in the rural district of Graettinger-Terril for nearly four years. But each time he thought he might be close, money, or lack thereof, got in the way. Myers’ luck changed in July 2020, when Iowa received $50 million in federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, aka the CARES Act. The act passed in March 2020 as a $2.2 trillion relief package to respond to the economic fallout from COVID-19. Of that $50 million in CARES Act money, $30 million was allocated per capita, at $9.50 per Iowan.
ByHanah Kitamoto, Kailey Gee, Krisha Kapoor, Alex Carlon, Maddy Smith and Misha Canin / IowaWatch |
The Class of `21 has taken COVID-19’s brunt when it comes to education but also traditions and rites of passage. But students interviewed for a new IowaWatch high school journalism project showed plenty of pain in all grades this past year.
University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook said a proposed mid-year funding cut for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University but not the University of Northern Iowa reflects each university’s distinct mission, not favoritism. This IowaWatch Connection podcast covers that and other topics in an interview with Nook.
We are planning to observe Iowa day in the schools …to place special emphasis upon the things of great importance in the state…,” wrote A.M. Deyoe, state superintendent of public instruction, in a bulletin sent to all Iowa schools in December 1915.
Legislators, superintendents and lobbyists in Iowa say the formula used to fund Iowa’s public school districts is outdated and creates a major disparity in the level of education Iowa students receive.
Iowa has resisted a trend adopted by other states of funneling lottery proceeds straight into public education. Yet, a myth that the Iowa Lottery, which marks its 30th anniversary milestone this year, does is so prevalent that Mary Neubauer, Iowa Lottery’s vice president of external relations, said she continually has to clarify the misconception.