Kalbach: Why we’re fighting to protect our AEAs

Barb Kalbach. Photo submitted

By Guest Post

February 1, 2024

Gov. Kim Reynolds is once again attacking Iowa’s public school system. This time she wants to slash vital services offered by our Area Education Agencies (AEAs).

AEAs provide special education support, media services, training, crisis intervention, professional development and more. These agencies are critical for kids, families, teachers and our communities. AEAs serve more than 500,000 Iowa students.

AEAs are regionally based and accountable to local communities. Reynolds wants to tear down that structure and centralize power and authority under her control. Iowans from all over the state are speaking out against this power grab. We need to maintain local control of our public schools and education system, end of subject.

And Reynolds didn’t even write her own AEA bill. She hired an out-of-state firm–Guidehouse–using $150,000 in federal COVID relief funds to do the job. (I’m not sure how cutting our AEAs helps with COVID relief) So now Reynolds doesn’t think our legislators are capable of writing laws for Iowans? Is “Guidehouse” running our lawmaking system or is it our duly elected representatives? Guidehouse is the same firm, by the way, that wrote the Reynolds government reorganization bill that cut cabinet-level positions from 37 to 16 and eliminated an estimated 205 full-time jobs. The service cuts coming from these staff reductions is harming the most vulnerable Iowans.

AEAs are especially important in rural Iowa. As mentioned in a Jan. 23 guest opinion in the Oelwein Daily Register, US Senator Chuck Grassley championed the creation of AEAs as a state legislator in the 1970s in order to “level the education playing field between urban and rural school districts. Grassley was instrumental in writing and passing the original bill that created the AEA system in Iowa. He understood that rural districts simply do not have the resources in human or financial capacity to cover these costs.”

I served on my local school board for 12 years. It’s a small rural district, and there is simply no way we could have afforded to cover all of those services provided by AEAs. Their work is invaluable. And let’s not forget that it was an AEA crisis team that landed at Perry High School on Day 1 of the mass shooting just weeks ago. They continue to be there daily, working with children and staff as they struggle to recover from the tragedy.

Members of Iowa CCI are joining with parents, teachers, AEA support staff, and other concerned citizens to stop Reynolds’ power grab. This issue is not going away. We will protect our local schools and regional AEAs from the Governor’s attacks.

You can send a message to Reynolds by emailing her chief of staff – Taryn Frideres – at [email protected]. Tell her to stop the power grab and protect our AEAs.

We also need our state House and Senate education leaders to help stop Reynolds. We need State Senator Ken Rozenboom, Chair of the Senate Education Committee ([email protected]) and State Representative Skyler Wheeler, Chair of the House Education Committee ([email protected]) to weigh in. We need them to do everything they can to protect our AEAs.

Reynolds’ plan to gut our AEAs is facing widespread opposition all over the state. She’s really stirred up a hornet’s nest. Iowans understand that Reynolds has gone too far in her goal of destroying our public education system. We’re not going to stand by and let her get away with it.

Barb Kalbach is a fourth-generation family farmer, registered nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at [email protected].



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