Gov. Reynolds proposes changes to Area Education Agencies
STATEWIDE — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed an overhaul to the state’s nine area education agencies (AEA) that provide special education, media, and additional support and expertise to schools throughout the state.
Gov. Reynold’s proposal would redesign the funding structure of the AEA, streamline services offered, and create new oversight. Instead of state and federal funding going to the agencies to financially support the services they provide, the money would go to the public school districts. Reynolds said it would then be up to the school districts to decide whether to use those funds for AEA services, either with the AEA the district currently is utilizing, or a different AEA, or through a private company.
Reynolds said the bill will improve special education services and supports for students with disabilities. AEAs will continue to provide all special education services they do now, including Child Find and Early ACCESS for children from birth to three years of age. AEAs will also provide general education services and media services if requested by schools and approved by the Department of Education.
Harlan Community School District Superintendent Dr. Jenny Barnett said HCSD would have to employ approximately five new full-time employees to fill the gaps in services provided on both the general and special education side of what Green Hills AEA, the district’s agency, now provides. Barnett said this does not include additional occupational and physical therapists, vision itinerant teachers, deaf and hard of hearing staff, and early access staff. The district would need to contract with private entities for service which would most likely increase special education spending, she said.
“While we are a large enough district and are fortunate to have many of these services in our community or within driving distance, many small rural schools cannot afford to hire full time staff,” Barnett said.
Green Hills AEA currently serves 45 public and accredited non-public school districts, which amounts to approximately 39,000 students in 10 counties across southwest Iowa, said Dave Fringer, Executive Director of IT & Media for Green Hills AEA.
Fringer said it is important to know all children are general education students first, which means the agency supports them with many resources, then add additional resources according to the student’s specific needs.
“In Iowa, most children receiving special education services are educated in a general education classroom,” Fringer said.
“Our AEA system intertwines all the resources a student receiving special education resources needs to best support quality outcomes. Isolating special education services from our other services reduces a teacher’s ability to support all of his or her students. Green Hills AEA’s content area consultants play a vital role in supporting teachers and students, especially those facing challenges in their learning journey. The bill’s impact on removing this support undermines the strategic assistance needed to address the diverse learning needs of students.”
When the AEAs were originally created fifty years ago, there were 15 agencies providing services throughout the state. Due to voluntary mergers, there are currently nine. Reynolds said she is not calling for the closure of any of the AEAs, but she believes the system needs reformed. She said she believes the agencies have strayed beyond their original charge of supporting special education services.
“Over the years, AEAs have expanded well beyond the scope of special education, providing a wide array of other offerings for teachers, schools, and districts. These range from athletic coaching certification, cybersecurity, and classroom book sets, to providing graphic design and printing,” Reynolds said in a press release Friday.
Reynolds’ original proposal restricted AEAs to only provide special education services, and stopping the agencies from offering media services, professional training, and various other programs. She has now planned to release an amended version, allowing the AEAs to continue to provide general education and media services at the school’s request and following approval by the Department of Education.
Dr. Barnett said having access to the media and materials provided by Green Hills AEA without the school district having to purchase it allows teachers many more options to use in the classrooms.
“This year, our teachers have used over 22,000 digital resources provided by Green Hills AEA. In addition, they have physically checked out over 5,000 resource kits, materials, book sets, robots, and many other items from the Green Hills AEA media center,” Barnett said.
Barnett said she is not opposed to some revision of the agencies,but the original bill eliminated all non-special education services which impacts so many students across all ability levels and teachers across both public and private schools.
“Until these services can be provided through revisions, our students will suffer if this bill passes,” Barnett said. “I am appreciative of our local representatives asking for our input on the proposed changes. I am hopeful that we will find a good compromise for all before a final bill is put to vote.”