Governor’s AEA proposals are wrong for Iowa

Fifty years ago, AEAs were created with the help of Senator Chuck Grassley to create equal opportunities for all students, so that regardless of where you lived, all children and educators had equal access and support to ensure Iowa students could achieve to the fullest.

Through the AEA, I was able to increasingly improve my teaching as we collaborated to see my students to their next steps beyond school and prepare them for independent living. After teaching, I served as a curriculum director, principal, and superintendent in several rural Iowa schools. I frequently reached out to AEA staff for assistance with math, literacy, and science materials and professional learning opportunities for our teachers.

In 2015, I moved from being a superintendent in rural Iowa to a superintendency in Connecticut. I quickly learned two things about the regional service centers there:

1) they did not have special education staff to assist schools and

2) professional learning, curriculum materials, and other supports to schools were on a pay for use basis.

This required that we hire our own speech and language pathologists, school psychologists, contract out for occupational and physical therapists, vision and hearing specialists, and pay for any specialized educational materials and equipment that some students required. The annual cost for salary, benefits, travel between the schools, contracted services, and specialized materials and equipment for students was over $3.4 million annually. In Iowa, these services would be provided by the district’s AEA to the tune of around $600,000 in special education flow-through money that then gives the district all these services.

Without the AEAs, schools will pay more, and it likely will result in increased property taxes.

It was extremely difficult to find quality staff for these positions. When an educator called to request professional materials from the educational service center, it was the school’s responsibility to acquire them. Not like the AEAs in Iowa who locate and deliver materials to schools every week at no additional cost.

If Iowa loses this system, these strong supports will be gone. We will lose many of the current

professionals employed by the AEAs. Schools who are already having difficulty with budgets will be forced to reallocate their purchasing power. Some children will be served and others will not.

The governor’s proposals are wrong for Iowa. Let’s support our children and give them the best chance to succeed by preserving the AEA.

Pam Vogel

Des Moines