- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Senate will likely take up a bill soon that would create more state oversight of some private facilities that provide educational instruction to children but are largely unregulated, the head of a legislative committee said Monday.

The potential vote would come amid sex abuse allegations at Midwest Academy in Keokuk, a now-closed boarding school in southeast Iowa that was privately funded and didn’t require a license to operate. One state official told lawmakers Monday she believes there are only a few such facilities in Iowa.

“We want to get it right, or at least as right as we can in the time frame we have to operate,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

The details of the bill are still being sorted out. The measure that passed a full committee would essentially add state regulation of private facilities that charge for educational services to children or provide housing, boarding or residential services to them.

Quirmbach said he expects to introduce at least one amendment to the bill when it gets to the floor of the full chamber. The changes could come from several state agencies, including the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Human Services. The agencies along with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and others have been working together to make recommendations.

Some agency representatives told lawmakers that current state law does not give them the authority to oversee such private facilities.

Wendy Rickman, division administrator of Adult Children and Family Services at DHS, said there are only a handful of such facilities in Iowa. She said the agencies want legislation that requires the state to monitor the health, safety and education of children but doesn’t go “overboard.”

“It is a bit of a balancing act with privately run facilities to get into their programming and the specifics of what they do,” she said. “That really is not our intent.”

Several lawmakers expressed frustration that state agencies didn’t bring up any concerns about the current system.

“Someone should have said, ‘Well, maybe we need to go to the Legislature and get some laws changed,” said Robert Dvorsky, D-Coralville. “I appreciate your efforts after that, but at some point somebody should have said, ‘This is wrong and we need to do something about it.’”

Quirmbach expects a floor vote soon so the bill can head to the House and beat an upcoming deadline for legislation this session.

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