Iowa House & Senate Have Own Plans For AEAs

Des Moines, Iowa — House Speaker Pat Grassley says Republicans in the Iowa House have developed an alternative to Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed overhaul of Area Education Agencies that help educate students with disabilities.

Reynolds wants to let schools use a private firm, a different AEA or hire more special ed staff in their districts for the next school year. The House GOP plan would start sending state and federal special education funding directly to schools rather than the AEAs — as the governor proposed — but it may only be used for special ed services from the local AEA.

Grassley says the plan calls for a study that would involve legislators, educators and parents. A new state Division of Special Education would be created as the governor proposed, but with half as many employees and most of them would be assigned to work in the AEA regions. The nine AEA administrators would see their salaries cut to be in line with local superintendents in their region. In years two and three of the House GOP plan, schools would no longer have to use the AEAs for media services or other education-related services, like teacher training and curriculum materials.

House Republicans decided a few weeks ago to table the governor’s bill on AEAs. In a wrtiten statement, Reynolds said she appreciates that she and lawmakers will be able to continue the conversation about AEA changes. In a separate bill, House Republicans propose raising the salary for new teachers to at least 50 thousand dollars — as the governor called for — but over the next two years. Grassley says that would give schools time to adjust the pay levels for current teachers. House Republicans want to send 14 million dollars to schools — to raise the pay for other school staff.

These proposals are scheduled for debate in the House Education Committee later today (Thursday), along with a bill that would increase general state per pupil spending on public schools by three percent.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are proposing changes in Reynolds’ plan too. Reynolds wants to send all government funding for special education services to schools, so districts could continue using AEAs for those services or choose another provider. A bill approved by the Senate Education Committee would still send 10 percent of that special education funding to AEAs, but school districts would control the rest. AEAs also would get 40 percent of the money they receive now for media services as well as other AEA services for teachers and all students. Republican Senator Lynn Evans, a retired superintendent from Aurelia, says their plan provides a safety net for the AEA system.

Governor Reynolds says she appreciates that the conversation about AEA changes is continuing. Evans says Senate Republicans will make more adjustments to their plan when the bill is debated in the full Senate.

Democrats on the committee voted against the plan as it was presented last (Wednesday) night. Senator Claire Celsi, a Democrat from West Des Moines, says the AEA system is working and the proposed changes in distributing special education funding would make it difficult for AEAs and schools to provide services to students with disabilities.

Senator Molly Donahue, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says if the goal is to improve test scores among students with disabilities, the Senate GOP plan won’t get there.

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Senate Republicans say some AEAs provide more services than others and putting the Iowa Department of Education in charge will fix that.


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