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Bill changing Iowa’s Area Education Agencies goes to the governor

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(The Center Square) – A bill that would change how services are delivered through Iowa’s Area Education Agencies is on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds after the Senate passed an amended version Tuesday.

House File 2612 also includes a pay raise for teachers. Minimum teacher pay would increase to $50,000 over the next two years, making the starting salaries the fifth highest in the U.S. The bill gradually bumps the pay for teachers with 12 years of experience to a minimum of $62,000 annually. The bill also sets aside $14 million to increase paraprofessionals’ pay.

Rep. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, said the amended version of the bill would give school districts control of special education funding. The school districts must use 100% of the funding with AEAs in fiscal year 2025.

“In year two, 90% of the special ed support funding must continue to be paid to the AEA for special ed support services,” Evans said. “Ten percent remains under the control of the local school board. Any special ed services requested must be provided by the AEA so no special ed dollars are being taken out of the services for special education.”

School districts must use 40% of media services funding with the AEAs in year one but will control 100% in subsequent years.

The bill also includes Department of Education oversight of the AEAs, which was in the original bill passed in 1974.

“We’re simply returning the oversight back to the department that was designed for compliance and oversight which is the Department of Education and taking it out of the hands of the AEA, which, back when that was put into place in the late 90s, early 2000s, they did not want,” Evans said. “They pushed back against having that oversight.”

The bill had bipartisan opposition. Sen. Charlie McClintock, R-Alburnett, read emails he received opposing the bill and voted against it.

“I don’t think the governor was wrong in calling for a review of the AEAs,” McClintock said. “I just think AEAs are not only fully capable but completely willing to review their processes without this legislation being forced on them.”

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, said Iowans don’t want the bill, but the governor “has the ear” of Republicans.

“Several Republican members from the House acknowledged publicly over the weekend that there are problems with their most recent version because it was so rushed (with) mistakes that should be fixed but they voted for it anyway,” Garriott said. “And so many in this chamber will vote for this too, the House’s sloppy seconds.”

Reynolds thanked Senate leadership after the vote.

“Today’s vote by the Senate sends a strong message: every Iowa student deserves a world class education, and the compensation of every Iowa teacher should reflect the importance of their role,” Reynolds said. “Reforming the AEA system creates accountability, transparency, consistency, and most importantly, better outcomes for all Iowa’s students.”

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