Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds recently proposed significant changes to the state's Area Education Agencies (AEAs), particularly in the realm of special education services. The original proposal, introduced on January 10th, aimed to restrict AEAs to providing only special education services, emphasizing a desire to streamline their focus and reduce administrative expenses. When it comes to these changes, I have a vested interest as my wife works with behavioral and physically disabled children at an area elementary school in the Western Dubuque school district.

Governor Reynolds justified her original proposal by stating that AEAs had expanded well beyond their core mission of assisting students with disabilities, resulting in top-heavy organizations with high administrative costs. This sparked concerns, particularly from stakeholders like educators, parents, and superintendents, who argued that AEAs play a crucial role in supporting general education services, teacher training, and providing resources like books and technology support.

Credit: DGLimages
Credit: DGLimages

After engaging in discussions with key stakeholders, including lawmakers, teachers, parents, and superintendents, Governor Reynolds decided to revise her initial proposal. The amended plan allows AEAs to continue offering general education services to school districts that request them, provided the request is approved by the Iowa Department of Education. This adjustment came in response to concerns raised by stakeholders, particularly regarding the potential impact on rural schools. You can see any changes made and the full bill is available here.

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Cindy Yelick, Chief Administrator at Heartland AEA, expressed the largest concern for AEAs, which is the potential impact on rural schools. In smaller towns, essential services such as speech-language therapy or occupational therapy may not have dedicated service providers. Governor Reynolds acknowledged these concerns, stating that schools and parents know their students best, and the revised bill ensures they are in the driver's seat in deciding how best to support their students.

One significant change proposed by Governor Reynolds is the redirection of state and federal special education funding directly to Iowa public school districts, bypassing AEAs. The intention behind this shift is to empower school districts with more control over how they allocate special education funding. Additionally, school districts will retain their share of funding for general education services currently provided by AEAs.

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Democratic lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, have raised concerns about the lack of consultation in the decision-making process. Konfrst stated that Democratic lawmakers were not consulted when discussing changes to the bill, expressing skepticism about the potential negative impact on AEAs. She stated that "Iowans are overwhelmingly against the proposed bill," and urged citizens to continue speaking out in opposition.

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David Tilly, the former Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education, analyzed the proposed legislation and expressed reservations. He argues that, if implemented as written, the bill could harm Iowa children, families, and small school districts. He questioned the need for such drastic changes and urged policymakers to slow down the process, base decisions on objective data, and implement metrics to monitor the effectiveness of any changes.

The legislative process is currently ongoing, with both the House and Senate Education Committees assigning subcommittees to examine the bill. Public feedback sessions have not been scheduled yet, but discussions among lawmakers, Governor Reynolds, and stakeholders continue. While Governor Reynolds emphasized that the goal of the bill is to ensure that disabled Iowa students receive a world-class education, opposition from various quarters suggests that finding a balance between streamlining services and preserving the effectiveness of AEAs remains a challenge. The final outcome is likely to be influenced by ongoing debates and efforts to address the concerns raised by stakeholders, local parents, and schools.

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