Gov. Reynolds signs AEA bill ‘that no one really likes’

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By Ty Rushing

March 26, 2024

Story updated after the bill was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday, March 27.

In recent years, it has been rare for Iowa Republicans in the legislature to vote against Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposals let alone speak out publicly against them, but Sen. Charlie McClintock didn’t hold back during the Iowa Senate’s latest Area Education Agency (AEA) debate.

“Based on the content and input that I’ve received, I can say that no one really likes this bill,” said McClintock, a Republican from Alburnett. “The very idea of dismantling and defunding the Area Education Agencies has upset and offended the people in Iowa to a whole nother level.”

AEAs most notably provide special education services to Iowans from birth to age 21, but also provide a wide range of other services to Iowa schools.

McClintock was one of two Republican senators who joined Democrats in voting against HF 2612 on Tuesday, which passed in a 30-18 vote. The bill passed out of the Iowa House last Thursday in a narrow vote.

 Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has pushed hard for the bill this session, signed the bill into law during a Wednesday afternoon ceremony in her office. 

“I look forward to the work ahead to implement this bill and the possibilities it holds for Iowa’s students,” she said the day before the signing.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) panned the decision.

“Gov. Reynolds demanded an attack on Iowa’s Area Education Agencies that no one asked for and no one wanted. She bullied it through the Republican-led legislature, and today she signed it into law,” she said. “Every step of the way, Iowans told her to stop, to slow down, to engage stakeholders, and collaborate on real improvements to special education in Iowa. She never listened, and now parents and children will face the consequences.”

The AEA bill has bounced back and forth between the House and Senate as Republican lawmakers worked on a compromise between the two chambers without input from Democrats who have pushed for just an AEA study committee instead.

“I’ve heard my colleagues run down the process, [but] I think this is how government is designed to work to be honest with you, even though it’s clunky and it’s a little messy,” said Sen. Lynn Evan (R-Aurelia), who managed the legislation on the floor.

The version of the AEA bill that Reynolds will sign also includes school funding for the 2024-25 academic year and teacher pay increases, which the House previously passed as separate bills, but were lumped into the AEA bill to get it across the finish line with the Senate.

Under this legislation, AEAs will still receive 100% of special education funding for Iowa’s K-12 school years in the 2024-25 fiscal year. However, in the 2025-26 fiscal year, AEAs will receive 90% of that funding while the remaining 10% go to school districts to decide its use.

The bill also changes AEA funding for general education and media services. In year one, AEAs would keep 40% of the funding they currently receive for those services while 60% would go to school districts. In year two, all of that money goes to school districts.

Other changes to AEAs include:

  • Gives the Iowa Department of Education direct oversight of AEAs under a reestablished division of special education that will hire 13 new positions to staff it.
  • Requires all professional development to be approved by the Department of Education.
  • Starting in 2026, allows schools to switch to a different AEA if it’s within the contiguous boundaries of the AEA or shares a superintendent with a school district that receives services from a different AEA.
  • Establishing an AEA task force to recommend changes to the system before the next legislative session.
  • Changing AEA boards into advisory-only boards.
  • Cap AEA directors pay to 125% of the average salary of all superintendents of the school districts that are located within the boundaries of that AEA.

HF 2612 also boosts starting teacher pay to $47,500 in 2025 and $50,000 in 2026, while increasing the minimum salary for teachers with 12 years of experience to $60,000 in 2025 and $62,000 in 2026. It also sets this year’s state supplemental aid to public schools at 2.5%.

Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) said those provisions are like “trying to put a bow around a piece of garbage bill.”

“This bill is a hostile takeover of the AEAs,” she said. “The false premise that it was based upon has the entire state now looking at dismantling the AEA system.”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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