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Study of Iowa’s AEAs yields positive experience, results

GUEST VIEW: Inside Education

January 29, 2011
By Mary Stevens
Last year the Iowa legislature passed two bills that outlined a study of the current structure, funding and governance of the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to ensure that the system, which was established in 1974 by the Iowa legislature, is continuing to meet the demands of today’s learner. The study was also to review how AEA administrative services are funded, the services provided by the AEAs and the number of students served by each AEA. The purpose of the study was to determine if the current AEA model can effectively address the challenges and requirements of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

The AEAs were established to provide equitable, efficient and effective special education, professional development, media and technology services for all the local school districts within Iowa. There have been two previous studies to review the AEAs and based on recommendations from these studies the AEAs have voluntarily merged from 15 AEAs to the current 9 AEAs. The Department of Education (DE) developed a Task Force last summer to address the issues identified in the current legislation.

The Task Force included representatives from the DE, the AEAs, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association, the School Administrators of Iowa, local school districts, accredited nonpublic schools, chairpersons and ranking members of the Senate and House standing committees on education, and a parent or guardian of a child receiving special education services.

I was honored to be the representative for the AEA Directors of Special Education and one of the representatives of the AEAs on the Task Force. This was an opportunity to examine the current AEA system and identify how it can be improved to enhance the educational system within Iowa. It was apparent from the first meeting that many of the members of the Task Force did not know all the services available through the AEAs. I wondered how many people in Iowa really know what the AEAs provide and how efficiently the AEAs can provide these services. As I listened to the discussion and the recommendations of the Task Force I realized that the AEAs need to highlight their services, need to be more consistent in the services available to districts, need to be transparent in how they make decisions and need to be very explicit about how they are enhancing student achievement.

The AEAs are an integral partner in the Iowa educational system. No matter what the legislature does with the Task Force recommendations, the AEAs are moving forward to enhance the system. We need to work together to make the changes that will ensure each and every student in Iowa is prepared for success in adult life.

Editor’s Note: Mary Stevens is the Director of Special Education with Area Education Agency 267 and can be reached at 319-273-8272. Area Education Agency 267 serves over 66,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.

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