AEA proposal lacks common sense

Posted 1/17/24

Our house is over twenty years old. Like all homes, even ones in excellent shape, ours needs maintenance and improvements occasionally. Recently, my wife wanted to replace our kitchen floor. I …

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AEA proposal lacks common sense


Our house is over twenty years old. Like all homes, even ones in excellent shape, ours needs maintenance and improvements occasionally. Recently, my wife wanted to replace our kitchen floor. I suggested that a way to get a new kitchen floor was to burn down our house.

Truthfully, I didn’t suggest that, but if I had, you would have rightfully thought I was an idiot. Improving a fantastic structure by burning it down defies common sense and signals something else that is more ominous.

The current proposal concerning Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) is akin to burning down the house. I won’t call anyone an idiot, but this proposal is not about improvement but a conscientious effort to demolish an educational structure with a proven track record of excellence. It lacks all common sense and makes me wonder if this proposal is about something else, like cruel vindictiveness. Or is it a way to free up educational funds because the newly implemented Iowa private school voucher program costs much more than was initially calculated?

Ask any teacher, administrator, or parent who has used AEA services, and you will understand their importance. While a limited number of very weak AEAs will remain to satisfy special education law, many effective AEA programs, like those concerned with student mental and behavioral health, curriculum and program support, gifted education, professional development, and media and technology services, will cease to exist. Small school districts will be the most impacted, but all students in every community will suffer. Iowa’s educational system will continue its decline to mediocrity brought on by politicians’ meddling.

The proposed bill (HSB 542) turns sole control of the gutted AEAs over to the Iowa Department of Education (DE) Director. Currently, a Board of Directors in each AEA, voted on by the local school boards, is responsible for each AEA's policies and direction. These boards will remain, but only in an advisory capacity. We will once again lose more local control and give it instead to the politicians and bureaucrats in Des Moines.

Some political leaders have mentioned that the money saved by demolishing the AEA structure will be directed to teachers’ salaries. I’m glad they finally admit that teachers are underpaid. However, I have read the proposed bill, and this promise is not mentioned anywhere. I suspect this is an empty promise to try to gain educator favor for their proposal. I am willing to bet that even with this promise, most teachers would rather keep the current AEA structure. I trust teachers more than I trust any politician’s pledge.

One little talked-about provision in the proposed bill appears to eliminate the independent Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) for AEA employees. I predict that once IPERS is eliminated for AEA employees, they will do the same for the remainder of the state’s educators, law enforcement, fire personnel, county workers, and all other public employees. We will lose a valuable incentive for bringing the best and brightest into public service.

I am retired now, but as a school superintendent, I advised principals to wait 24 hours, if possible, before responding to an email or a situation that made them angry. This allowed the administrator time to create a response lacking negative emotion. I learned of the proposed changes to Iowa’s AEA structure a week ago. I don’t think there will ever be enough time for me to lose my cynicism, frustration, sarcasm, and ire over this latest political demonization and assault on Iowa’s public education system.

I urge every reader to consider contacting your legislators to inform them that enough is enough and to leave what’s best for students to the teachers, administrators, parents, school boards, and local communities.

Mark Schneider


AEA, Iowa, reform, legislative session, Governor Kim Reynolds, letter to the editor, Mark Schneider, superintendent, January, 2024