Gov. Kim Reynolds is backing an effort to reform Iowa’s education agencies after reported mismanagement.
The network of nine Area Education Agencies (AEA) – distinct from the Iowa Department of Education – stretches across the entire state, providing a variety of resources for families and educators.
According to the AEA website, 80% of its services are related to special education.
In the current system, special education funds are automatically sent to the agencies, which then partner with local schools.
However, Reynold’s proposal would send the funds directly to the school districts for efficiency. Administrators could then decide whether to utilize AEA services or other private or third-party resources.
“From the start, my focus has been on improving special education for Iowa’s students with disabilities,” Reynolds said in a statement. “If schools like the services provided by their AEA, they can continue to use them.
“By allowing schools to control their funding, creating efficiencies in the AEA system, and increasing teacher salaries, more money will be infused into our classrooms, so every student receives the quality education they deserve.”
The bills also include raises for teachers and measures to hold AEAs more accountable to the state education department.
In January, a consulting firm found Iowa was paying more for special education than other states – but producing less academic achievement.
Consultants said AEAs have “vast control over the education of students with disabilities with little oversight from school districts and the Iowa Department of Education.”
They further blamed the current system for the state’s 20-year decline in special education.
Iowa’s state teachers’ union is coming to the defense of the current bureaucracy, however.
The Iowa State Education Association website urges people to contact state leadership in defense of AEAs, claiming the bills pose “a significant threat to the quality of education our children receive.”
Nevertheless, Republican leadership is generally supportive of Reynold’s reforms.
According to Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, R-District 57, lawmakers are simply taking their time to get the solution right.
“We’re obviously going to use some of the framework that the governor laid out,” said Grassley. “We also want to sit down with the stakeholders and see what pieces maybe we can do that fit.”