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The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

In the crosshairs: AEA services at risk amid Iowa educational reform bill

A+Pleasant+Valley+student+attempts+to+access+AEAs+online+resources%2C+but+is+unable.+
Jae Jepsen
A Pleasant Valley student attempts to access AEA’s online resources, but is unable.

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds proposed a bill in early January that would entirely reconstruct the state’s Area Education Agency (AEA) system, limiting the organizations’ services and granting increased agency to schools. 

The AEA was originally established in 1974 to provide services to individuals with disabilities, but in the years since then, the agencies have expanded to provide educational and developmental assistance to all students. In schools, the AEA is the sole provider of such services.

Iowa is currently home to nine AEA’s after a reduction from 14 last year. Each agency serves its own portion of the state.

At Pleasant Valley, the Mississippi Bend AEA provides services all the way from elementary to high school, providing special education resources, literacy coaches, training opportunities for teachers and cybersecurity measures for the entire district, among numerous other services.

“First and foremost, it’s all about the kids,” said PV superintendent Brian Strusz. “School districts do a very good job [working] with AEA to have that best support for kids.”

Reynolds’s first proposed bill, Senate Study Bill 3073, would have restricted the programs provided by the AEA to strictly special education and allowed schools to contract private providers for those services. 

“Schools and parents know their students best, and this bill ensures they are in the driver’s seat in deciding how best to support their students,” Reynolds said in her Condition of the State address on Jan. 9. “This model will give schools control over their money and create more transparency in the system.”

After receiving feedback from Iowa educators and constituents, Reynolds amended her bill to maintain additional AEA programs. 

In the adjusted proposal, the AEA would be permitted to provide media and general education services at the request of individual schools and if approved by the Iowa Department of Education.

But even these amendments do not secure the AEA’s future.

With decreased funds, AEAs across Iowa would be forced to make layoffs, particularly of those working for media and development services. This would leave some 2,000 people without jobs and limit the human resources available for schools.

Reynolds’ plan aims to create competition between special education providers, but may create an opposite effect. “If we don’t have [AEA] support, then we have to go out and hire people,” Strusz explained. “But anytime you do that now you’re starting a competition amongst all the local districts for a limited supply of people who are having a huge impact on kids every day.”

This would leave PV with a dilemma. Competition runs the risk of PV not being able to hire the best providers. But if the AEA loses funding or multiple AEAs are combined, PV could be forced to share resources with other schools, losing valuable learning hours for students.

Acquiring qualified staff isn’t the only problem schools would face. The stipend Reynolds plan to allocate to each school will not be nearly enough to independently fund every program currently provided by the AEA, leaving districts to make difficult choices between the services and resources they have come to depend on in recent years. 

As for what specific losses PV may endure, administrators are not yet certain. 

Senior Tyler Nels participated in PV’s Extended Learning Program (ELP), a gifted education program funded by the AEA, all throughout elementary school. If programs are eliminated, ELP is one of the many programs at risk. 

“ELP helped me grow as a learner through elementary and propelled me towards my future success,” Nels explained.  “I worry that students like myself will lose interest in the classroom at an early age because they aren’t being challenged.”

Concerns about this bill have made their way onto the front pages of newspapers around the state and, on Monday, they made their way into PV’s school board meeting.

Speech-language pathologist Jeanna Kakavas works for the Mississippi Bend AEA, serving both PV’s junior high and high school. She spoke at the meeting to implore board members to rebuke the bill. 

“[The AEA] works hand in hand with teachers, parents, educators and administration to support and provide a level of excellence that our students deserve,” she said. “I urge you to push back against this bill that takes away all the curated resources that the AEA provides.”

Kakavas’s expertise isn’t limited to her profession— she also has two students at Bridgeview Elementary. “As a parent, I want my children to have the best educational experience possible… I want my children to learn in classrooms that have hands-on learning materials. The AEA has made this possible without districts having to come up with additional funding,” she said.

Other parents are equally passionate about the topic. At the same school board meeting, District 7 Director Doug Kanwischer expressed that he had received more constituent feedback on the issue of the AEA than on any other topic during his time on the school board.

“The proposed cuts to the AEA are very concerning because [they] will reduce or eliminate essential services needed by educators to provide quality education for all,” said Jess Palmer, a mother of three students in the district. Palmer also runs a daycare, and has worked hand-in-hand with AEA representatives to make sure her kids have plans in place to allow them to thrive. 

Strusz has spent recent days in conversation with other local superintendents and feels confident that neighboring districts can come together and agree on a solution. “We’ve all said what we’d like to do as a group is stay consistent with the current practice we have right now and contract services through the AEA instead of going on our own and impacting each other,” he said. 

But superintentents alone cannot solve everything. In coming days, a subcommittee of both House and Senate Education Committee members will revise the bill, considering the feedback of various advocates. 

Until a decision is reached, the fate of Iowa’s AEAs hangs undetermined. 

For years now, Reynolds has been vocal about the importance of educational freedom, serving as a proponent of parents’ rights and district independence. But now thousands of Iowans who have come to see the value of the AEA are left with one question: How much will this freedom cost their children?

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About the Contributor
Jae Jepsen, Editor-in-Chief
Jae Jepsen is a senior at Pleasant Valley High School and is thrilled to serve as 2023-2024 Editor-in-Chief for the Spartan Shield Online! In past years, she has written for the Boston Terrier at Boston University's Summer Journalism Institute, worked as Copy Editor online, and been print News Editor. Outside of journalism, Jae is the Vice President Out-of-House for the PV Drama Officer Board, and participates in theatre both on and off stage. She has been a representative on Spartan Assembly throughout all of high school. After graduation, Jae will attend the University of Missouri to pursue a degree in journalism.
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  • S

    Suleman timesMar 24, 2024 at 8:36 pm

    Im not a expert in this field however, as the article mentions im sure there is. suitable or even better alternative. The reason everyone is so concerned is because we have used AEA forever, and we are resistant to change. It may even be good because if the state of iowa wants to make a new program it may be even better and more current with the times.

    Reply
  • K

    KatieJan 28, 2024 at 8:13 pm

    It is so sad that she is manipulating and spreading incorrect information and continues to do so when she has to have been told the facts. The scores she is using to say the AEA is failing is old data. This would be catastrophic if this goes through for Iowa’s teachers, students and AEA employees would be left scrambling. There is no way local hospital therapists can help local schools because they are short staff- we already have people from other states wanting in on this? Why would we want to support people outside the state and lay-off citizens! Tax payers in their communities. AEA staff does have an oversight- the Department of Education does regular audits and passed with flying colors. There is no viable reason for this bill which was not written by our legislators!

    Reply
  • M

    Megan MerrellJan 28, 2024 at 7:32 pm

    Educational freedom is important and I’m glad that we are starting to take this more seriously

    Reply