DES MOINES — Governor Kim Reynolds says it’s time for a comprehensive review of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies that mainly provide services to children with disabilities.
Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver says the A-E-As are a bureaucracy that’s been in place for 50 years. “It really hasn’t had a lot of oversight or kind of reevaluating,” Whitver says. “We want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for the buck that we have in those services and so taking a look at that is the job of the legislature.”
The governor says changes are necessary in Area Education Agencies after statewide tests found students with disabilities scored up to 50 points lower on math than the statewide average. Whitver says the per pupil cost of AEA services is above the national average. “We need to figure out why that is and what we can do to make it better,” Whitver says. “We probably need to focus more on the original mission of the AEAs and make sure that the AEAs are set up for success going forward.”
About 70 percent of the work at AEAs supports children with disabilities, but the AEAs provide other services like speech therapy for students and curriculum advice for teachers. House Speaker Pat Grassley expects the governor to make a proposal that refocuses the AEAs on the core mission of special education services. “We need to make sure that there’s accountability for the students,” Grassley says, “but also for the taxpayer as well.”
Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum says reducing A-E-A services would be a hit to rural school districts. “In Dubuque or Des Moines or some of the urban centers, we do have services locally that might be able to fill in some of those gaps,” Jochum says. “Rural Iowa does not.”
The AEAs provide services to children with disabilities from birth until the age of 21. Jochum’s daughter, Sarah, was born in 1977 with a unique intellectual disability and Jochum says she benefitted from AEA guidance when Sarah was a toddler. “Even though I was the oldest of six and watched a lot of children when you have a child with a disability there are some new techniques that you simply wouldn’t know that they help teach you as a parent to help your child,” Jochum says, “and for that, I will always be grateful.”
Jochum says that assistance is critical for a child with disabilities who will be entering their local school system in a few years.