February 28, 2024

Week 3

By Jon Dunwell

As week three has come to an end at the Capitol, the Governor’s AEA bill has certainly been the main attraction. Iowa’s AEAs (Area Education Services) provide support for children with disabilities, special education, general education services, and media, and technology. Currently, there are 9 AEAs regionally located and governed by a regional board. On Tuesday of our first week, Governor Reynolds unveiled her broad plan for restructuring the AEAs in her State of the State address with her proposed bill becoming available to the legislature on Wednesday.

As I reviewed the initial bill, I concluded that I could not support the bill as is. As the Governor heard from educators, the public, and the legislature, she offered forth an amendment, adding back most of the AEA services that had been cut. Her plan allows each school district to have greater choice in who provides the needed services to their students. Furthermore, it places the AEAs underneath the Iowa Department of Education and moves the boards to an advisory role. The amendment is still being drafted.

As I review the current proposal, I’m continuing my due diligence. I am reviewing the correspondence I have received, engaging in conversations with educators, meeting with AEA chiefs, asking questions of the Governor and her staff, connecting with the Director of Education, and bringing my four School Superintendents into the conversation.

As I prepare to review the Governor’s proposed amendment, here are my questions.

1. We need to begin with the “rural” in mind. How does this help my rural districts? If larger districts leave an AEA, will it reduce services to the smaller districts?

2. What specifically are the positive outcomes/benefits the proposed plan will bring to our students and staff? How will it raise test scores? Will it provide more boots on the ground, better quality of services, or easier access to services?

3. What are the benefits to placing the AEAs directly underneath the Department of Education? Why is this accountability better than the existing accreditation standards? Will the regionality of the AEAs be lost?

4. What are the specific services that will no longer be available from the AEAs? Why shouldn’t they be offered by the AEAs?

Bottomline, I’m all for creating greater accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness. And I’m not afraid of change and the short-term disruption it can create. We always need to be seeking how we can do things better, especially when it comes to our students. But before we initiate those changes, we need to clearly understand the benefits and outcomes. We are still taking that journey in the Iowa House. Let’s keep the conversation going.