Governor says Iowa, as a small state, doesn’t need nine AEAs

JOHNSTON — Governor Kim Reynolds says her push to overhaul Area Education Agencies is designed to address a bloated bureaucracy and 20 years of lagging test scores among Iowa students with disabilities.

“Do you think we need nine AEAs?” Reynolds was asked this morning during taping of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS which aired over the weekend. 

“No,” Reynolds replied. “…We did a study in 2011. That’s the danger of a study. The study gets done. It recommended at that time, I think, going down from nine to five.”

Reynolds originally proposed having Iowa’s nine AEAs focus solely on special education services for disabled students, but she’s adjusting her plan to retain other services like a media lending library and curriculum outlines for teachers. Reynolds says her goal is to have the Iowa Department of Education develop a list of approved AEA services schools may choose to use.

“There’s no consistency between the nine AEAs, so they can talk about school districts wanting to utilize their services, but not all of them offer those services,” Reynolds said. “It’s very hit and miss.”

Reynolds has not proposed closing or consolidating AEAs, but she has asked legislators to approve hiring dozens more staff in the Iowa Department of Education to oversee the 3400 people who work in Area Education Agencies and the services the AEAs provide schools.

“Right now we have nine AEA districts, nine chiefs and they were making on an average when you look at their total compensation package about $310,000 each,” Reynolds said. “We don’t need nine. We’re a small state.”

The governor’s AEA overhaul would let local school districts choose whether to continue using AEA services, hire their own staff, or find a private vendor with the combination of state, federal and local property taxes that under current law is automatically funneled to the AEAs.

“Iowa students with disabilities ranked 30th or below in nine out of 12 assessments over the last five years and over the last 20 years students with disabilities have been on an average underperforming compared to kids across the country — students with disabilities,” Reynolds said. “And so it’s time that we do something to the system that can improve the scores and accountability and help these children.”