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

House Republicans pass Area Education Agency overhaul omnibus in party-line vote

After requiring the debate to conclude by 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, limiting the amount of time Democrats and Republicans could speak on the bill before a vote.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Speaker of the House, Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, looks over documents during the first day of the 2024 Iowa legislative session at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. Grassley has been in the house since 2007.

Iowa House Republicans pushed through a massive amendment to their plan to overhaul Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies on Thursday.

The bill includes their AEA overhaul, a 2.5 percent increase to Supplemental State Aid used to calculate state school funding, and the house’s Teacher pay increase.

The bill would keep much of what Iowa House Republicans passed last month, and Senate lawmakers stripped when sending it back to the House on Monday.

The overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies is a top priority of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds who announced the massive overhaul of the agencies in her Condition of the State address in January.

The reforms have received strong opposition from Iowans who say the bill will hurt Iowa students who receive special education services from AEAs. Some school superintendents have lobbied for the reforms saying they increase flexibility for schools with special education funding to better provide the services their students need.

The amendment that made the changes to the bill passed on Thursday, 51-42. All 34 House Democrats voted against the bill in addition to eight House Republicans that voted against the bill:

  • Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston.
  • Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine.
  • Zach Dieken, R-Granville.
  • Tom Jeneary, R-Le Mars.
  • Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant.
  • Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf.
  • Ray Sorensen, R-Greenfield.
  • Charley Thomson, R-Charles City.

With the amendment taken by the chamber, the bill keeps the majority of the House’s bill they passed last month intact. The bill would:

  • Require schools to contract with AEAs for special education services.
  • Give all special education funding designated for Iowa’s AEAs under current law to instead go to Iowa’s public school districts to contract for services.
  • Require schools to spend 90 percent of their special education funding to go to AEAs, while 10 percent could be spent on third-party special education services.
  • Raise teacher pay to $50,000 in two years and provide millions in funding to fund the teacher pay increase and increases to pay for paraprofessionals and other educational support professionals.
  • Increase state funding to Iowa’s public schools, or Supplemental State Aid, by 2.5 percent. Which is half a percent less than House Republicans original proposal and in line with the governor’s budget.

House Republicans’ original bill would have kept federal special education funding with Area Education Agencies and given all state funding for special education to school districts.

Both proposals would expand oversight of AEAs by the Iowa Department of Education by creating a new division of special education in the department.

The bill also does not include a $15 per hour minimum wage for paraeducators and other educational support personnel, which is currently $7.25 or Iowa’s standard minimum wage, that was proposed in the original House bill.

The amendment to the House proposal was published online at 3:55 p.m. on Thursday, a little more than an hour before debate on the bill started, and House Republicans moved to limit debate by requiring debate to conclude at 6:30 p.m. the same day.

Reynolds thanked the House lawmakers who passed the bill late on Thursday, in a news release sent shortly after the bill passed the Iowa House Thursday evening.

“By reforming the AEA system, empowering school districts, and improving oversight and transparency, we are committing to better outcomes and brighter futures for Iowa’s students with disabilities,” Reynolds said in a news release. “They deserve nothing less.”

In a news release following shortly after the House closed floor debate, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver signaled that Senate Republicans are likely to pass the bill, committing to start considering the bill early next week in the Senate.

​​“I am happy to see progress on AEA reform, raising starting teacher pay, and education funding,” Whitver said in the news release. “Senate Republicans will discuss the new version of the bill next week and I am looking forward to a resolution on these issues.”

Republicans: bill won’t hurt special education, will increase flexibility

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, said “There’s absolutely nothing in [the bill] that hurts special education.”

Wheeler said he assigned himself the bill because of the effects reforms to AEAs could have on his 5-year-old daughter with Autism. He argued he wouldn’t push for legislation that could harm the services his daughter receives. Wheeler also said that he appreciates all the services that AEAs provide his family, but the system needs more flexibility.

“I assigned [the bill to myself] because I knew if this deals with special education,” Wheeler said. “This deals with my daughter’s future, but it also deals with so many of the different families and individuals that I know in the disability community and to say that this is: destroying them, an attack on them, disrupting them is ridiculous in my mind. I would never support or push for any piece of legislation that I thought would harm that community.”

Rep. Chad Ingels, R-Randalia, called Democrats comments “fear-mongering” and said that the bill doesn’t do what Democrats say.

“March Madness that’s what I would call some of the fear-mongering that we’re hearing today,” Ingels said. “It’s over the top. We are not dismantling the AEA system. I think there’s going to be challenges going forward. As we adjust to some changes in a system. There’s no money going away from that system. We’re just adjusting how it flows.”

Democrats: bill rushed that affects “most vulnerable” Iowans 

With a debate cut off sharply at 6:30 p.m. and an amendment that was publicly available less than an hour before the debate on the amendment, Democrats said the bill was rushed.

“Shame, such nonsense,” Rep. Sharon Sue Steckman, D-Mason City, said during the debate. “This is not the way we do business here for something this important for our children. We’re going to rush through this. It’s like a crazy March Madness.”

Rep. Ken Croken, D-Davenport, speculated that the motion limiting debate was due to a basketball game in Omaha.

Iowa State Men’s Basketball and the Drake Men’s basketball teams play at 6:35 p.m. and 9:05 p.m. on Thursday at CHI Health Center in Omaha.

Rep. Molly Buck, D-Ankeny, a public school teacher, said the bill would affect Iowa’s “most vulnerable population” by disrupting the AEA system that provides special education services for Iowa’s students.

“We are rushing through legislation that affects the most vulnerable kids we have in Iowa — our most vulnerable population,” Buck said. “The ones that can’t speak for themselves, the ones that can’t defend themselves. We’re stampeding toward a system that I am afraid will be in chaos at the end of this. I wouldn’t stand up and fight this hard against something unless I was truly worried about it.”

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About the Contributors
Liam Halawith
Liam Halawith, Politics Editor
Liam Halawith is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Public Policy. Before his role as Politics Editor Liam was a politics reporter for the DI. Outside of the DI Liam has interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Southeast Iowa Union. This is his second year working for the DI.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.