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Education reform and school safety in focus as Iowa concludes 2024 legislative session

Iowa lawmakers wrapped up their work for the year over the weekend. They worked through the night on Friday and finished after 4 a.m.

Lawmakers ended the 2024 legislative session with education on the center stage and a spotlight on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priority to overhaul Iowa’s Area Education Agencies and increase teacher pay.

Also on the governor’s desk is a bill that would ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Iowa’s three public universities.

“Education has always been important to Iowa, even when I came here years ago,” Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, said. “The fact that Iowa’s seen to have fallen out of the top states in that regard has been a concern and so there’s going to be a desire to improve the educational environment here in Iowa.”

After the tragic Perry High School shooting, school safety and helping their grieving district became a priority.

Now, a new law allows the district to give bonuses in hopes of retaining teachers.

Republicans also passed proposals to allow school staff to carry guns and improve safety, infrastructure and security.

“We’ve given school safety really a focus this year and, you know sometimes a tragedy will prompt that, but it needed to happen,” State Sen. Amy Sinclair (R- Allerton) said.

Democrats disagreed with many of the GOP’s bills.

Specifically, the bill consolidating Iowa’s boards and commissions and another that stripped a requirement to balance boards by gender.

Democrats did back some policies, like improving reading achievement gaps and changing the law so Iowa Boy Scouts who were sexually abused can get the compensation they’re owed in a national settlement.

“There have been a lot of bills that have not been very palatable to Democrats and our constituents, so we’ve had to kind of work around that and to kind of take the victories where we can get them,” State Sen. Claire Celsi (D- West Des Moines) said.

Other bills that failed to move forward this session included a plan to give legal protections to pesticide companies, an eminent domain proposal and a GOP-backed election bill to ban absentee drop boxes and allow felons on Iowa’s federal ballot.

“There are always things that we struggle to find consensus on within the caucus,” Sen. Sinclair said. “But we will definitely look at those things where we didn’t find consensus this year and really work to find the consensus that makes the most sense for Iowa.”