Education Focus Groups: Iowa parents say legislators are focused on the wrong things

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Iowa parents are concerned about what’s happening to their public schools as a result of policies passed by Governor Reynolds and the Republican-controlled legislature, according to newly released focus groups. 

While MAGA Republicans like Reynolds and Republican legislators attempt to divide voters, parents are focused on resources for teachers and schools and educational opportunities for kids. Cutting funds for public schools, sending public resources to wealthy, urban private schools, discriminating against LGBTQ students and banning books are making parents anxious. 

The focus groups, run by Navigator Research, were conducted on August 30-31, with parents of K-12 students in Iowa, public educators in Texas, and high school students and public educators in Florida. Click here to read the report published by Navigator Research

“When it comes to education, we need our elected officials to focus on the freedom to learn and resources for educators and students, not divisive, mean spirited politics,” Matt Sinovic, Executive Director of Progress Iowa said. “This research shows that parents are far more concerned about the resources available for students’ education than the political agenda that Governor Reynolds is pushing.”

Key findings included: 

  • Iowa parents think  resources, like raising pay for teachers and school staff to ensure good teachers and school staff are retained, should be a top priority. 
  • Parents in Iowa consider essential life skills, known as Social-Emotional Learning, like communication, decision-making, and self discipline, a top policy priority.
  • Participants—unprompted–discuss their priorities around school safety and cuts to education over “anti-wokeness.” 
  • Conservative legislators are focused on the wrong things, like funding cuts, book bans, and canceling classes. 

Many parents that participated in the focus groups were alarmed about perceptions of nationwide school trends, specifically funding and school safety. 

“My concern comes from a funding perspective. I’m concerned about how we’re doing this in the state,” said one Iowa dad. “I’m concerned about how, in the limited interactions I’ve had with educators in other states, there are a lot of inequities and I mean I’m fortunate to live in a relatively affluent school district, but others are very not that way.”

Many parents and students also expressed their frustration and disappointment regarding anti-LGBTQ school bills, like book bans that remove school library books that discuss LGBTQ identities. 

“I think that what these laws do is overreach and try to legislate every possible option out of the way,” said an Iowa parent. “It’s governmental overreach in my opinion.”

The research also shows that the legislative effects of LGBTQ attacks have had direct impacts on the classroom. 

When asked what they have heard about the teaching of gender and race in schools, a dad in Iowa stated: “From my school next to none, from things through different media outlets, it’s eye-catching now… people like to talk about it because people like to get mad about it.” 

An Iowa mom similarly noted: “It just seems like the national level, you hear all the, like he says, outrageous stories, but I haven’t heard of any problems or issues or it taking away from school time here.” 

Navigator Research published the results of four focus groups, conducted by GBAO August 30-31, 2023. Two focus groups were conducted online with Iowa K-12 public school parents and Texas K-12 public high school teachers, and two were conducted in-person with Florida high school students and Florida K12 public school teachers. Some quotes were lightly edited for brevity by Navigator Research.