February 28, 2024

Lawmakers welcome even more feedback about upcoming education bills

Jasper County lawmakers are staying in contact with superintendents, AEA leaders and constituents

Iowa House Rep. Jon Dunwell speaks to Newton school board members during a meeting on Jan. 22 at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center. Legislators provided board members with an update on education-related bills at the Iowa Legislature, but discussions mainly focused on the proposed AEA restructure.

Iowa House Rep. Jon Dunwell has already spent several hours talking about the proposal to reform the Area Education Agencies during a legislative gathering held by the League of Women Voters of Jasper County and now a Newton school board meeting. Even so, he is encouraging even more feedback.

Dunwell has been in contact with the four different superintendents that are part of his district, and he has frequently asked for their feedback. He has also made contact with Dr. Cindy Yelick, the chief administrator of Heartland AEA, and has been having regular conversations with her since the summer about AEAs.

“She’s up at the Capitol almost every day having conversations with legislators,” he said. “You have to remember, what makes this bill very unique is this is the first time we’ve looked at it. There is a lot of legislation that you think moves quickly and does move quickly because it’s the third or fourth time we’ve looked at it.”

The AEA proposal and its amendment is brand new and will require a lot of extra studying from legislators, many of whom may not even grasp how AEAs or how special education works in public schools. There is a quick learning curve for lawmakers, Dunwell said.

While Dunwell has stated that he does not support the original proposal and is undecided on the governor’s amended proposal, he did tell the audience that he is never against looking for effectiveness and efficiencies, and he suggested decision making should be about the kids and making sure there are outcomes.

“The challenge of looking at a bill like this is: Do these changes actually create those things? Does it create more efficiencies or make it more effective? Are we seeing greater outcomes when it comes to special ed?” Dunwell said. “…One of the things I keep saying to the governor and staff is begin with rural in mind.”

Larger school districts have more flexibility in terms of spending as opposed to the more rural school districts, like Baxter, Lynnville-Sully and Prairie City-Monroe. Dunwell said bills like this garner a lot of emails. He encouraged the practice but asked that people include where they are from.

“It makes a tremendous difference because we get some that are just from all over the place, so knowing you’re from Newton or Pella or wherever it happens to be is extremely helpful,” Dunwell said. “They’ve been very thoughtful, and they provide a great context, typically, of what’s going on in the services AEAs provide.”

As well as the impact those services have the lives of families, kids and teachers. It has been quite the experience the past 13 days, Dunwell added.

“I anticipate the next month or month-and-a-half to be filled with it,” he said. “People always ask me, ‘What do you think is going to happen, Jon?’ I think some grand compromise is going to be reached. You don’t unveil a bill like this without anticipating some sort of compromise or something coming out.”

To contact Jon Dunwell, the House representative of District 38, either email him at his legislative email jon.dunwell@legis.iowa.gov or at his home email jdunwell@me.com or call the general capitol phone line at 515-281-3221.

To contact Barb Kniff McCulla, the House representative of District 37, email her at her home email bkniff@klkconstruction.com or her legislative email at barb.kniffmcculla@legis.iowa.gov or call 515-281-3221.

To contact Ken Rozenboom, the Senator of District 19, email him at his legislative email ken.rozenboom@legis.iowa.gov or call his general capitol phone line at 515-281-3371.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.