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Reforming Open Enrollment

When Maria wanted to use open enrollment to allow her daughter to change school districts after being assaulted at school, the Des Moines Public Schools told her "no." If Maria's daughter was in a different district, she would have the right to use open enrollment. But because DMPS had a "voluntary diversity plan" it could deny open enrollment to any child it wanted to.

Iowa law allowed a school district to adopt voluntary diversity plans. Although "diversity" was in the title, these plans really had nothing to do with racial or ethnic diversity. Schools would use other factors, like the child's eligibility for free or reduced meals as a proxy for race and ethnicity. For example, in DMPS the plan called students "minority" if they were eligible for free or reduced meals, even though over 70% of students in the district received that assistance. In other words, the school district was sending the message that minority=poverty. After labeling kids like this, the so-called diversity plan would then require the school district to maintain the balance in the district. This meant that the needs of a child were less important than the needs of the district.

This was wrong, and the Kirkwood Institute worked to fix the law. The Kirkwood Institute issued a special report on how the DMPS abused its authority under the guise of diversity. We brought Maria to the Iowa Capitol to meet lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds to talk about her plight. Thankfully, the legislature passed a bill that removed the ability of Iowa school districts to deny open enrollment requests based on voluntary diversity plans.

Read the Kirkwood Institute special report about the DMPS abuse of voluntary diversity plans

Read the bill that reformed the law

See some news coverage about this issue

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