Iowa House passes bill to change funding for Area Education Agencies



(The Center Square) – The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill that changes how the state’s Area Education Agencies are funded amid accusations from some lawmakers that the legislation is a “power grab” and unnecessary.

AEAs oversee special education services in the state. In her Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds said that the nine districts “operate without meaningful oversight.”

House Bill 2612 would shift state funding from the AEAs to the local school districts, which would have the flexibility to contract special education services with other providers. The bill does not affect the federal funding the AEAs receive.

The Iowa Division of Special Education would assign 13 full-time employees to oversee the AEAs and five full-time employees in each of the nine district offices “to ensure the AEA complies with all applicable federal and State laws related to special education and to review the services provided by the AEA,” according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Rep. J.D. Scholten, D-Sioux City, said the bill would hurt children.

“This bill is a power grab that centralizes power here in Des Moines, rather than allowing for a regional system that has worked for decades, fifty years,” Scholten said.

HB 2612 also calls for a task force to study AEAs, which Scholten and other Democrats said they would support if no other changes were made.

“We need a task force, not this bill,” said Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, adding that the bill should have been scrutinized more closely.

Parents packed a hearing room last week to protest the bill.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, the bill’s sponsor, said there is support for the legislation.

“There are numerous superintendents that came out and publicly asked, actually for this bill to go further,” Wheeler said. “This bill came to us as a way to look at how do we improve outcomes for our students, and specifically students with disabilities.”

The bill passed by a vote of 52 to 41 and moves to the Senate.

Gov. Kim Reynolds thanked the House shortly after the bill’s passage.

“The AEA system is failing our students, national and state test scores show it and the U.S. Department of Education tells us that too. Improving student outcomes has always been at the forefront,” Reynolds said. “The system must provide transparency and accountability to school districts, those closest to our students, and drive consistency across the AEA regions to improve services for students with disabilities. That’s what I’ve heard from over 100 school districts as I’ve traveled the state, and I look forward to more conversations as the legislation moves forward.”

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