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**Renewed Push for Special Education Reform Following Plan Adjustment**

Gov. Kim Reynolds restated her commitment to overhauling the system that delivers special education services to Iowa’s students, despite facing initial resistance to her suggestions.

Reynolds emphasized that the focus of the state’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) should return to their core mission of providing exceptional special education services, rather than diversifying their scope over the past five decades.

Initially established in 1974 by state legislators to cater to Iowans with disabilities from infancy to 21 years old, these agencies have expanded their services to encompass various areas such as teacher training and crisis intervention, deviating from their original purpose.

In her recent communication addressed to Iowans, Reynolds underscored the necessity for AEAs to specialize in delivering top-tier special education services instead of attempting to fulfill a multitude of roles.

Acknowledging that only a fraction of the current services offered by AEAs are tailored to supporting children with disabilities, Reynolds stressed the need for a more focused approach.

While approximately 73% of the agencies’ budgets are allocated to special education initiatives, it is evident that special education is just one facet of the broader spectrum of services provided by the agencies.

The AEAs play a pivotal role in assessing students for specialized support, guiding and assisting special education educators, and directly delivering services like speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy to students in need.

Reynolds initially proposed significant changes to the functioning of these agencies in her recent State of the State address, suggesting that school districts should have the option to seek services elsewhere and limiting the AEAs’ scope exclusively to special education.

However, subsequent developments indicated a shift in approach, with amendments being introduced to allow the agencies to continue offering services beyond special education.

Critics, including House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, have accused Reynolds of politicizing special education services for Iowa’s children, highlighting the need for accountability in decision-making processes.

Reynolds defended her stance by pointing to standardized test scores of Iowa students with disabilities, indicating the necessity for reforms to enhance the effectiveness of support provided to these students.

Despite the emphasis on test scores, Cindy Yelick, the chief administrator of Heartland AEA, emphasized that success in special education should not be solely measured by standardized assessments, but should also consider students’ progress towards educational goals and their ability to pursue further education or employment opportunities post high school.

Yelick expressed concerns about the lack of inclusion of AEAs in the legislative discussions, stressing the potential adverse impact of the proposed changes on children, families, and schools.

Reynolds justified her push for restructuring by highlighting what she perceives as excessive administrative costs within the AEA system, advocating for streamlining the nine agencies to reduce overhead expenses.

While Reynolds cited administrative costs as a concern, Yelick clarified that the total administrative compensation within AEA agencies aligns with state regulations for school districts, comprising less than 5% of their budgets.

Opposition from Democratic lawmakers suggests that Reynolds’ proposals may encounter resistance due to the perceived negative implications on essential services provided by AEAs.

Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum urged continued public engagement to safeguard the interests of children, families, and communities reliant on the crucial services offered by AEAs.