How Iowa Republicans used the AEA bill to play politics

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds reacts after signing a new law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy before speaking at the Family Leadership Summit, Friday, July 14, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By Ty Rushing

April 1, 2024

This fall, voters can expect to be bombarded by mailers and ads saying that Iowa Democrats voted against teacher pay raises; however, those attacks will likely fail to mention that this provision was attached to the Area Education Agency (AEA) bill that is unpopular with most Iowans.

The reason teacher pay was included in the AEA bill was politics. 

Republicans have a trifecta in state government, but Iowa’s House and Senate Republicans were at an impasse on the controversial legislation that affects K-12 special education services. Teacher pay raises and state funding for public schools were included to seal the deal between the chambers.

Iowa Democrats in the legislature have lobbied for increased pay for Iowa teachers and support staff for years and boosting teacher compensation is part of the Iowa Democratic Party’s official platform that was adopted in 2022. But Democratic lawmakers were unwilling to support the AEA bill that they argue was rushed, against the will of the people, determinantal to rural schools, and another step toward education privatization.

Despite Democrats’ history of supporting teacher pay raises,  the Iowa GOP last week provided a sample of how it plans to spin the AEA bill during the general election in a release lambasting Democratic Senators Nate Boulton of Des Moines, Sarah Trone Garriott of West Des Moines, and Eric Giddens of Cedar Falls for their votes against HF 2612.

“Today’s vote demonstrates that Senate Democrats prioritize education unions over teachers. Despite the opportunity to raise starting teacher pay, they voted against it,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann. 

“As a professor myself, I understand the necessity of having new, young teachers in every district, particularly in rural Iowa. Trone Garriott, Boulton, and Giddens have undoubtedly made it more challenging to attract teachers to those districts. They should be held accountable.”

The release the Iowa GOP put out with Kaufmann’s quotes focused on teacher pay and not the massive forced restructuring of Iowa’s AEAs, which is what the 45-page bill is primarily about.

It also ignores that Senate Republicans never took action on a standalone bill to increase teacher pay, legislation the Iowa House passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion—92 “yes” votes and one “no”—on March 7. The Iowa Senate assigned the bill to a subcommittee, but it never met and the legislation stalled out.

During the Iowa Senate’s second debate on the AEA bill—the version with teacher pay increases—several Democratic senators accused Republican senators of “logrolling,” a practice the Iowa Supreme Court previously found them guilty of. 

The court said “logrolling occurs when a provision unrelated to the core of a bill and not itself capable of obtaining majority support is tied to a popular bill having majority support. Logrolling also occurs when several matters, none of which individually has majority support, are joined in one bill and passage procured by combining the minority in favor of each into a majority willing to enact them all.”

Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) said he knew some Republican senators were against the AEA bill—two joined Democrats in voting against the legislation and a third was absent—but supported it because of the teacher salary increase provision.

“You could have brought that out and we could have been out of here in five minutes,” Dotlzer said of widespread support a standalone teacher pay bill would have received. 

Dotzler also acknowledged that voting against the AEA bill with teacher pay included was akin to stepping on a political landmine.

“[Republicans will] be able to say you voted against teacher salaries on House File 2612, and you won’t be telling a lie because I’m going to vote against the whole bill even though—even though—I support teacher salaries,” he said. “That’s what’s wrong with doing this kind of thing.”

  • 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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