Auditor airs concerns about proposed overhaul of Iowa AEAs

DES MOINES — State Auditor Rob Sand, the only Democrat in statewide office, is questioning the governor’s plan to overhaul special education programs and create a new division in the Iowa Department of Education to oversee Area Education Agencies.

“The idea that they’re going to move it to the Department of Education to improve oversight after this legislature and this governor gutted the auditor’s office, made a list of documents that we can’t look at in audits, does anyone really think they’re making that kind of a move to improve oversight?” Sand asks. “I doubt it.”

Sand, who issued a written statement after the governor’s Condition of the State Address on Tuesday, said in an interview that he’s also concerned about what the governor’s plan means for the 3400 people who work in AEAs.

“There’s a lot of loving, wonderful people around the state of Iowa who work at the AEAs. My mom was one of them. That was her career up in northeast Iowa, driving around as a physical therapist, doing what I would say is the Lord’s work, literally putting her hands on kids, helping them learn to walk, and she would come home levitating sometimes because her kid learned to walk today,” Sand told Radio Iowa, “and she loved them just as much as she loved my sister and I.”

The governor said it’s time for a reboot because AEA spending has been on autopilot and the test scores of students with disabilities are far below the national average. The governor’s plan calls for AEAs to focus solely on special education programming rather than the teacher training and other services they’re providing schools. The governor proposes that school districts get to choose whether to stick with their local AEA for special education services, switch to a different AEA, hire their own staff or work with a private firm to provide the services.