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### Iowa Superintendents Raise Concerns Over AEA Modifications

Superintendents from over 30 Iowa school districts cautioned state legislators on March 17 about the potential repercussions of significant alterations to Area Education Agencies (AEAs), emphasizing the detrimental impact on the students they are dedicated to serving.

Expressing deep apprehension regarding the proposed modifications to the AEAs, particularly the transition towards a ‘Fee-for-Service’ model, the superintendents underscored the importance of the current AEA framework, especially for rural school districts heavily reliant on AEAs for vital assistance.

Caleb Bonjour, superintendent of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District, highlighted that the undersigned superintendents represent a subset of those opposing legislation that could have a profound effect on AEAs. The Gladbrook-Reinbeck district encompasses rural areas in Black Hawk, Grundy, and Marshall counties.

Concerns Regarding State Government Intervention

Governor Kim Reynolds’ agenda includes reallocating special education funding from AEAs to public school districts, restricting the scope of services AEAs can provide, and permitting districts to engage alternative service providers if they opt out of collaborating with the AEA. This plan aims to transfer control of special education services to the state Department of Education and dismantle the regional governance of AEAs.

The superintendents criticized the consolidation of authority within the Department of Education, citing a lack of apparent capacity and experienced leadership in education, which undermines local expertise essential for tailoring services to community-specific needs.

They characterized the proposed AEA changes as an “unnecessary overreach by our state government” based on exaggerated claims about imminent federal actions that have since been largely discredited.

Implications of Rapid Implementation

The superintendents raised concerns about the rapid implementation of significant changes by July 1, 2024, as advocated by the governor, cautioning that such swift transitions risk destabilizing the educational ecosystem and impede essential strategic planning and adaptation. They urged postponing any AEA-related legislation until a comprehensive review of the education system involving all stakeholders is conducted.

Democratic lawmakers have proposed establishing a task force to examine AEAs and special education, delivering a report to the legislature before the 2025 session. However, House and Senate GOP leaders have struggled to reach a consensus on an AEA bill this year.

The Iowa Senate commenced deliberations on AEA legislation on March 18, with State Senator Lynn Evans introducing an amendment that significantly alters the current AEA structure compared to the House version. This amendment grants districts the option to select alternative providers for special education and other services, placing the state Department of Education in charge of special education services effective July 2025.

Governor’s Engagement and Superintendent Feedback

Governor Reynolds has conducted private meetings with select superintendents across the state to garner support for her AEA plan. These events, undisclosed in her public schedule, have not been accessible to the media or all interested school leaders.

In a message to legislators on March 17, the coalition of superintendents advocated for an inclusive process that values input from all stakeholders, emphasizing the importance of incorporating the wisdom and expertise of those immersed in the daily realities of schools in shaping education reform.

Brad Buck, of the Waukee Community School District, disclosed that after offering to arrange a meeting in response to Reynolds’ email about AEAs, he received no response from the governor or Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow.

The governor’s team has highlighted endorsements from a limited number of superintendents who support her plan, contrasting the concerns raised by the broader coalition of superintendents regarding the proposed AEA legislation.