‘Iowa Poll’ finds majority hold favorable view of AEAs

DES MOINES — A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Poll has found 56% of Iowans have a favorable opinion of the state’s nine Area Education Agencies.

The AEAs provide special education services, teacher training and other services to Iowa school districts. In early January Governor Kim Reynolds said the AEAs are failing students with disabilities and she proposed major changes in how AEAs operate, including an end to some services she says schools can get from the private sector or hire staff to provide.

The Iowa House has approved its own bill which would keep the AEAs as the sole provider of special education services for schools. It calls for creation of a task force to study the AEAs and pushes back the timeline for changes in non-special ed services provided by the AEAs. Representative Skyler Wheeler of Hull says he and other House Republicans met with parents, superintendents, AEA employees and education groups to get to this point.

“We’ve worked diligently and I am proud of the work that we have done,” Wheeler said. “…This bill does not change anything with special education. It does not dismantle the AEA system.”

Wheeler said as the parent of a child with autism he knows how important AEA services are to families and that’s why he used his authority as House Education Committee chairman to permanently table the governor’s plan. “We killed the other bill and started from scratch,” Wheeler said. “…I, too, have a very high opinion of the AEAs. This bill came to use as a way to look at how do we improve outcomes for our students and specifically students with disabilities.”

The bill passed the House late last week with the support of 53 Republicans. Nine Republicans and all Democrats in the House opposed it. Representative Molly Buck, a Democrat from Ankeny, is a teacher who questioned why the governor decided to propose such major changes. “No one campaigned on this issue,” Buck said. “The AEAs were blindsided…and I can tell you schools and teachers felt really blindsided, too.”

Senate Republicans have developed their own proposal for AEA changes that more closely resembles the governor’s bill.

In the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, 20% of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of AEAs, while 24% said they weren’t sure how they viewed AEAs.