Senate GOP leader optimistic lawmakers can agree on some AEA changes

JOHNSTON — The chairman of the House Education Committee says the governor’s bill to overhaul Area Education Agencies will not come up for a vote in his committee. Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver predicts the legislature will approve some changes in how AEAs operate.

“I think there’s a lot of people in our (Senate Republican) Caucus that are excited to make some reforms,” Whitver says. “There’s some that have a lot questions and I think it really indicates more of just the normal legislative process where the two sides disagree and we’re going to have to work with the governor and find some solution, but I’m optimistic we can do that.”

Area Education Agencies provide services for students with disabilities, as well as media and curriculum materials and training for all teachers. Governor Reynolds has proposed giving each Iowa school district the option to use AEA services or find another way to provide those services to students and staff.
House Speaker Pat Grassley has suggested it’s time for a “reset” on the whole conversation about AEAs. Whitver says the governor has made adjustments in her intitial proposal.

“I don’t know about starting from scratch because it is a totally different bill than it was three weeks ago, but we’re going to have to continue the conversation and make the case why these reforms are necessary if it’s going to become law.”

Critics say under the governor’s plan, urban districts will be able to use their AEA allotment to hire more staff or find private companies to provide the services — leaving rural schools with a depleted AEA system.

“That’s what we’re looking at, but I mean there’s almost $600 million in the AEA system, so if some of the schools opt out, I think there’s still a lot of money to make sure that services are being given to students across the state,” Whitver says, “but that’s certainly something we’re hearing from our rural members.”

Whitver made his comments this weekend on Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.