DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa House of Representatives passed an amended version of SF 546 on Monday evening by a 59 to 34 party-line vote. The amended legislation would give every parent in Iowa, with certain exceptions, the ability to teach their children driver’s education at home.
The legislation also clarifies the distinction between Competent Private Instruction (CPI) and Independent Private Instruction (IPI), two options for homeschooling in the state. It also changed reporting and evaluation dates for CPI students due to changes made with the state’s assessment.
When the Iowa Legislature passed parent-taught driver’s education, the bill’s language omitted IPI students, but the legislature’s intent at the time was to include them. Also, the Iowa Department of Education has since that bill passed has allowed IPI students to utilize parent-taught drivers’ education. The original bill would update the Iowa Code with the current Iowa DOT rules.
The bill also reduces the number of street and highway hours from 40 to 30. It states parents can work together to offer parent-taught driver’s education since the current homeschooling law allows parents to work in tandem with other subjects.
During the Iowa Senate debate on this bill in the Iowa Senate, State Senator Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, complained that only homeschooling parents had the opportunity to teach drivers education.
“So if you think you’re doing your kids a favor, you’re not. And to say to your kids are special, they’re not. And to ask the body to vote no what with no real defense of this because you truly are discriminating against kids who aren’t homeschooled,” he said. “You’re making parents have to go pay 2, 3, $400 for driving instruction. And all I ask is that you let parents, non-homeschooling parents, teach their own children to drive somehow what? That’s wrong? Somehow what? That’s not safe. This is discriminatory on its face.”
The amendment to the bill remedies that.
Iowa House Democrats questioned parents’ ability to teach drivers education.
“So this is saying anyone that has a driver’s license can teach their child to drive. That’s what this is saying. And my point is, just because you have a valid driver’s license doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach someone to drive,” State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said.
State Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said she was concerned with parents who had their licenses suspended teaching students to drive.
“If someone has had a suspended license, even though they have gotten it back, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are qualified to teach their own child. And certainly, if they have a history of that, meaning it’s happened more than once or twice, then it seems to me again that isn’t necessarily the best person to be teaching a student,” she said.
The law prohibits someone who had their license suspended from providing parent-taught driver’s education for two years after their suspension is lifted.
“There are some valuable lessons being taught in drivers ed. And those courses are extremely important in order for students to be prepared behind the wheel. That wheel is a deadly weapon. And we know that because people are killed. When I drive in every day to Des Moines on Monday, I look at the sign that tells us how many deaths there have been in Iowa over the weekend or during the week. Right now, it’s 60 that we’ve seen so far this year alone. I don’t know how many of those are teen drivers. But we know our teen drivers do not have the same set of experience that adult drivers do. And I also know that adult drivers are not always good role models for their children,” Mascher argued.
State Rep. Eric Gjerde, D-Cedar Rapids, said that parents are sometimes poor role models for students.
“I know that all of us, when we’re driving, and we pull up to a stoplight, have seen drivers do many different things. It might be shaving. It might be putting makeup on,” he said. “We know when we’ve had legislation come through subcommittee and committee here about texting and driving, kids see their parents do things. How difficult is it for a parent to say ‘well, you can’t text and drive’ when the student or the child sees their parent do that.”
The amendment was approved by a voice vote.
Steckman spoke again. She complained about the elimination of the time requirements for classroom instruction from the bill.
“Currently, what this bill does is changed some guidelines. And the way it was explained to me at subcommittee is that ‘well, my kids, they do the online course.’ And they’re just sitting back waiting for it to be over because they already know it,” she said.
“So part of the requirement is to have 30 hours of classroom instruction. Well, we got rid of that. They’re just going to have instruction, maybe five hours, maybe 15, whatever, I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s just driving a big lethal weapon, you know,” Steckman added.
She also complained about the current law that the state would only deny a parent from teaching drivers education to their students if they caused a motor vehicle accident that led to the serious injury or death of another person or had two accidents in a two-year period where they were at fault.
State Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, the bill’s manager, corrected Steckman in his closing remarks.
“Representative Steckman, moments ago, you were talking about those who maybe would be disqualified or related to who wouldn’t have a driver’s license. You did leave out some keywords in your reading of your definition, talking about habitual violators or habitual offenders. And there is some language in the code that describes them. So I’m a little shocked that you left certain words out as you’re reading the code to us,” he said.
Fry also reminded Steckman about her complaint in the subcommittee that parent-taught driver’s education wasn’t available for all parents.
“I believe it was your idea that you brought forth about opening this up to all students and parents, you were quite frustrated about the fact that we weren’t offering this to everyone in the state. ‘And why would homeschoolers just get the opportunity to have this taught to them by their parents?'” he quoted.
Fry said he offered to have her as a co-sponsor for the amendment, which she declined.
He also argued that the bill does not change the substance of what is taught.
“I would also suggest to you that the Department of Transportation has the great opportunity to continue to evaluate all courses in which they offer. Today, they offer four different courses for students to take this online driver’s education. Nowhere in this legislation have we taken the authority away from the Department of Transportation and their expertise in what kind of curriculum they would offer for these courses,” Fry stated.
He also argued that parents, not the school, have a vested interest in making sure their children drive safely.
“I also believe that parents do have the ability to teach their children in many different ways, many different subjects. I, for one, have had the privilege of teaching now four children driver’s ed in my own family. And I can tell you, the amount of time that I spend with that child in drivers education far outweighs the amount of time I received when I went through drivers education in the school system: the attention to detail, the desire that I have to make sure that my child drives safely, because who’s going to pay the insurance and liability and all the damages that would incur, should they get in an accident? It’s me. It’s not the school. It’s me as the parent, so I have a very vested interest in how my child comes out of driver’s ed,” Fry said.
The amended bill will return to the Iowa Senate for their consideration.