Iowa Senate sends AEA changes, school funding package to governor

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has given final approval to a bill that makes changes in Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, raises teacher pay and increases general state education spending. Governor Reynolds says she’ll sign the package into law.

The starting salary for teachers will rise to $50,000 within two years. There are raises for paraeducators along with a 2.5% increase in the state’s per pupil spending for public school students as well as the thousands of private school students who’ll get state-funded Education Savings Accounts this fall.

Republican Senator Lynn Evans, a retired superintendent from Aurelia, added up all additional spending in the bill. “So when you look at this in its totality: $180 million,” Evans said. “That is a commitment.”

Governor Reynolds proposed a major overhaul of AEAs in January. The legislature’s plan does not go as far as the governor’s, but does shift AEA oversight to the Iowa Department of Education. Schools eventually will have the authority to spend funding for special education, teacher prep and other AEA services outside of the AEA system.

Senator Cherielynn Westrich, a Republican from Ottumwa, said the bill provides needed transparency and accountability for the AEAs. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t stand and say: ‘I did campaign on this subject,’” Westrich said. “…I believe what we’re doing here today is what I had hoped to accomplish and set out to do.”

A dozen Republicans joined Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate to vote against the package because of the AEA changes. Republican
Senator Charlie McClintock of Alburnette said he’d been holding out hope there might be enough votes to block it. “The very idea of dismantling and defunding the Area Education Agencies has upset and offended the people of Iowa to a whole other level,” said McClintoch, who called the bill universally unpopular.

Senator Molly Donahue, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, is a special education teacher. “This is worse for our kids, it’s worse for our school districts,” Donahue says, “and it’s really going to hurt a lot of your rural districts.”

Under the bill, 43% of Iowa school districts will get less state support for the next academic year because enrollment is shrinking in those districts.