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

Iowa Senate sends Area Education Agency reform bill to the governor’s desk

The reforms were paired with an increase in teacher pay and school funding.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Caucus Night Watch Party at the Sheraton in West Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. Republican voters assembled statewide to participate in the caucuses despite the cold and extreme winter weather across the state. Former President Donald Trump won the caucuses in a dominant and early fashion with 51 percent support from Republicans while DeSantis trailed in second with 21 percent as of 11:15 p.m. Around 250 people showed up to listen to DeSantis. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa Senate Republicans passed the House’s bill to reform area education agencies, raise teacher pay, and increase school funding by 2.5 percent on Tuesday afternoon.

The vote seals a deal struck by House and Senate Republican leadership, and the governor to roll the three — originally separate proposals — into one.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk 11 weeks after the governor introduced her proposed reforms and earmarked it as her top legislative priority for this session during her annual Condition of the State Address in January.

The bill, House File 2612, mixes proposals that lawmakers in the House and Senate haven’t been able to gain consensus on. Both chambers proposed their own version of each piece of the bill passed on Tuesday. Legislative leaders said the bill is an attempt to meld the proposals into one that leadership, and now all lawmakers can agree on.

The bill passed, 30-18, Tuesday with all Democrats voting against the bill and joined by three Republicans: Sens. Charlie McClintock, R-Alburnett, Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, and Waylon Brown, R-Osage.

With the Senate concurring with the House’s amendment, the bill will:

  • 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 up the pay for teachers and 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.

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.

Republicans: Bill will bring needed reform

Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, said pairing school funding, teacher pay, and AEA reforms will raise all boats.

“This bill in its entirety will not only improve student achievement and special education,” Evans said. “It will not only help improve the AEA system, which is a support system for special ed and general education, but it’s going to raise student achievement in its entirety in our state.”

Evans also said something needs to be done to correct Iowa’s status as a state “in need of assistance” regarding special education test scores.

Annual reports from the U.S. Department of Education determined Iowa needed assistance for special education for the past two years, according to letters sent to the Iowa Department of Education in 2022 and 2023. The U.S. Department of Education is expected to be in Des Moines this fall, Evans said.

“So we’re gonna address that in this bill as well because when they are on-site in Des Moines this fall, they’re going to expect some kind of a path that shows we’re making changes in the right direction,” Evans, a former school superintendent, said. “I can attest this does that. But you can’t expect the entire system to improve simply based on addressing the support service mechanism,  the AEA, which is why it’s important that we’re raising teacher salaries.”

Reynolds released a statement on the Senate’s vote shortly after the final vote came in.

“Today’s vote by the Senate sends a strong message: every Iowa student deserves a world-class education, and the compensation of every Iowa teacher should reflect the importance of their role,” Reynolds said. “Change is seldom easy, but it is necessary to achieve better results. Reforming the AEA system creates accountability, transparency, consistency, and most importantly, better outcomes for all Iowa’s students.”

Some Republicans opposed the bill

Three Republican Senators voted against the bill.

McClintock, who opposes the bill, said the move is widely unpopular and he has spent a lot of time talking with and listening to his constituents on this issue from both sides of the aisle.

“The very idea of dismantling and defunding the area education agencies has upset and offended the people of Iowa to a whole nother level,” McClintock said. “Literally generations of Iowans have benefitted from the services and support of the AEAs.”

McClintock said he agrees with the governor on Iowa’s AEAs needing changes, but that AEAs are more than willing to adapt without legislation forcing them to.

“I just think the AEAs are not only fully capable but completely willing to review their processes without this legislation being forced upon them,” he said. “The debate over this issue should be taking place in a conference room somewhere with AEA chiefs and school administrators and not in the chambers of the Capitol by lawmakers.”

Democrats: Bill would create instability and underfunded schools. 

Democrats say the bill could create “instability and uncertainty” in Iowa’s special education system.

Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said taking the consistency that the current model gives Iowa’s special education staff and students would create this instability.

“Their changes turn AEAs into an unstable fee-for-service program that reduces access in rural Iowa and consolidates power in Des Moines,” Donahue said in a news release. “But this legislation creates instability and uncertainty that will reduce educational opportunities for hundreds of districts and thousands of students across every Iowa community.”

Donahue said the economy-of-scale that AEAs offer rural districts could be stripped by this bill. While funding isn’t taken away, the bill allows larger districts to contract with third parties or use their funding to provide special education services themselves.

“Folks, this is worse. This is worse for our kids. It’s worse for our school districts and it’s going to hurt a lot of your rural districts,” Donahue said during the floor debate on Tuesday. “Local control has once again been stripped away from the districts because they rely on those bigger districts being part of this funding process to create an equitable distribution of resources and services to students across Iowa regardless of where they live.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the 2.5 percent increase in school funding proposed in the bill is not enough to fund schools.

“Once again, Gov. Reynolds and the Republican majority are failing Iowa students, educators, and communities by underfunding our public schools,” Quirmbach said in a news release Tuesday. “Under Gov. Reynolds, the state is throwing taxpayer dollars at private schools and building a new bureaucracy in Des Moines, but failing to support public schools enough to keep up with inflation.”


More to Discover
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.