The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

JoCo residents speak out over AEA Reform at Sunday forum

A packed room of JoCo residents spoke out against AEA reform at a North Liberty legislative forum on Sunday.
Isabella Tisdale
Attendees listen to Sen. Zach Wahls speak during a conversation with local legislators about Area Education Agencies at the North Liberty public library on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. Representatives and senators including Sen. Zach Wahls and Iowa Rep. Elinor Levin listened to public forum from over 150 community members about how Area education agencies have influenced their lives. This meeting comes after a recent proposal by Kim Reynolds to limit and reform Area Education Agencies around Iowa.

A crowd of more than 150 people filed into the meeting room of the North Liberty Public Library during a legislative forum Sunday to discuss Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to reform the state’s Area Education Agencies.

Lawmakers have reported receiving thousands of emails denouncing the governor’s proposal and offering their stories of receiving support from AEAs. The packed library meeting room was one of hundreds filled around the state as Republicans and Democrats hold town halls to hear from constituents on the issue.

“I have gotten about 1,000 emails about this issue, and not one in support of the bill,” said Rep. Adam Zabner, D-Iowa City, who met with cheers from the forum crowd.

During Reynolds’ Condition of the State Address on Jan. 9, the governor announced a plan to dramatically change the formation of AEAs, and less than a week later announced changes to her proposal. Her altered plan would still reform how AEAs are funded, but delegate oversight of the agencies to the Iowa Department of Education.

During the public forum, Zabner addressed the amount of pushback Reynolds received from Iowans, and how this proposal is controversial for both Iowa Democrats and Republicans.

Forum attendees were invited to speak about their experiences with Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, although many were disappointed to see three empty seats at the panel saved for three Republican Johnson County legislators.

“I wish they were here because we all have something to learn,” Zabner said. “Education should not be a partisan issue. We should all believe in serving the Iowans we represent, and if you don’t come to listen to the people, I don’t know how you can represent them.”

Although speaking only to Johnson County Democratic legislators, the crowd continued to share their experiences of the benefits the AEAs have provided Iowa for nearly 50 years.

The legislators present on the panel urged the crowd to keep emailing and sending letters to the absent legislators, as well as joining them at the Capitol for subcommittee hearings.

“The important thing is to keep the stories coming, individual stories about how it’s [AEAs] impacted your life … How these changes will impact the lives of Iowans,” Zabner said. He then went on to list the emails of the three legislators who were absent from the conversation.

Teran Buettell, a challenging behavior and Autism specialist at Great Prairie AEAs, was the first attendee to tell their story to the packed room.

Buettell said she began working with the AEA after receiving services for her children with special needs. Buettell is not only worried about her job, but she is worried about the children who rely on AEAs.

“We are outraged because this is our passion, not because of what we get out of it, but because it matters to the lives of 10s of thousands of Iowa school children,” Buettell said. “We are outraged because it is based on ignorance, misrepresentation, and lies.”

Reynolds said her reasoning behind the proposal lies in how Iowa’s special education student performance is below the national average with lower assessment scores. Buettell called out Reynolds’ reasoning as a product of her own doing.

“We are outraged because the only plan the governor has is to cut back more resources from us and schools,” Buettell said. “How is that going to fix the problem?”

RELATED: Reynolds shifts AEA reform following feedback, backlash

Many Johnson County residents shared their stories of AEAs experienced through their children’s eyes as teachers and as AEA specialists.

Annie Ehlts who, before working for Great Prairie AEAs, was a special education teacher for ten years said the help AEAs offered when creating curriculum out of college was invaluable.

“If AEAs went away and I may no longer have a position, I would struggle going back to teaching because I utilize the AEA co-teaching English … I use the media,” Ehlts said. “I need the AEA in my corner to help me to teach.”

In Reynolds’ proposal to drastically change AEAs, she also put forth a raise for teachers, which Tyler Owen, a forum attendee, addressed.

“Iowa teachers deserve better pay … I honestly believe that, as an inclusion in this bill is truly insidious, and is a way to try and make it easier to swallow,” Owen said, with claps of support from the crowd.

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About the Contributors
Natalie Miller
Natalie Miller, Politics Reporter
Natalie Miller is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her position as a Politics Reporter, Natalie was a News Reporter focusing on Higher Education.
Isabella Tisdale
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.