Potential state funding cuts loom over Iowa Area Education Agencies

Saving Special Education Funding

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(ABC 6 News) – The state of Iowa may see cut backs to funding area education agencies, at the request of Governor Kim Reynolds.

It came as a shock to many during Reynolds’ Condition of the State address earlier this month when she proposed a massive cut to certain fields within the state’s area education agencies.

“Blowing up a system that has worked pretty well for 50 years is not the best thing to do,” said Joel Pederson, Chief Administrator for the Central Rivers AEA, which covers 15 counties in North Central Iowa.

AEA has been around for 50 years, providing support in special education, media services and technology across Iowa public schools at reduced costs.

These costs, according to Reynolds, are too much for the state. Which is why she has hired Guidehouse Consulting based out of Tysons, Virginia, for $125,000 to evaluate the operations of AEA.

“After reading through the bill, it was obviously written by somebody that has no idea how resourceful the AEA and how important they are to educators, to families,” said Mason City Representative Sharon Steckman (D) in the Iowa House.

The governor’s proposal left many in the field flabbergasted at the consideration of downsizing the AEA’s.

“We can look at all this data, we can look at all these talking points on both sides but it’s about kids and it’s about a history of supporting families and kids over and over and over again. And we know that by the out cry across the state,” Pedersen said.

Officials say, tens of thousands of people have already written countless emails to their legislatures asking them to reconsider the bill.

“Obviously people are paying attention because this is shredding our public education system just one cut at a time,” Steckman said.

Because for some, like Pedersen, the bill’s repercussions hit close to home. He received helped from AEA services as a child and knows first hand what these cutbacks could mean to students, teachers, and their families.

“This is one of those things that legislatures do not understand. There are unintended consequences when we say things and we don’t know the whole story. There are staff members looking to leave the organization, we are dealing with staff members crying because of this,” said Pedersen.

And if the bill drafted by Reynolds office does end up going through, it gives even more concern to what the future will hold for those working at and receiving help from AEA.

“Even if we have a system when this is left over, I don’t know how we’re going to staff a system when we already have all those concerns with finding teachers and specialists and OT’s and PT’s. Why would we do this? And that’s the thing as this continues and goes on longer we’re going to have more and more people with challenges, anxiety and it just doesn’t make sense to me to why we’re all going through this,” Pedersen said.

Governor Reynolds published a statement on the issue Friday which reads in part, “Despite consistently poor outcomes, under the current system schools are forced to send their state and federal money for special education services directly to the AEAs. Iowa is the only state in the nation that operates this way. 

“If we don’t do something different, we can simply expect more of the same. That’s not good enough for our children, and it’s why I’m proposing a change.”

Pedersen will be in Des Moines with fellow AEA administrators to meet with legislatures ahead of votes on the bill.