AEAs top list of concerns at legislative briefing

Legally defining ‘woman’ and mandating Holocaust study in schools next on legislators’ agenda

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 2/14/24


It’s hard to know if Gov. Kim Reynolds knew she was igniting a firestorm when she proposed overhauling Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEA) in her Condition of the State address a …

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AEAs top list of concerns at legislative briefing

Legally defining ‘woman’ and mandating Holocaust study in schools next on legislators’ agenda



It’s hard to know if Gov. Kim Reynolds knew she was igniting a firestorm when she proposed overhauling Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEA) in her Condition of the State address a month ago, but embers continue to sizzle over the issue, including at the legislative briefing held in Washington on Friday. State Senator Dawn Driscoll and Representative Heather Hora headed up the Feb. 9 community forum, where concerns over the future of AEAs dominated.

Representative Heather Hora, who serves on the education committee, among others, addressed the issue at the beginning of her remarks to the 40-50 community members gathered at Washington County Hospital & Clinics for the briefing.

“I’m sure some of you have questions on what we’re going to do with AEAs, and I will be happy to answer any questions you have,” she began, “But just know that the governor’s proposal is being reworked. We’ve had many meetings in the House with the chiefs of the AEAs and different superintendents and teachers and parents. There are continual meetings at all times about what we’re going to do with the AEAs. So, change is coming.”

AEAs provide a range of education resources to school districts across the state, including general education, special education, and media services. The governor’s initial proposal would have trimmed the offerings of AEAs so that special education alone would be their focus, in an effort to improve such. It also would have made contracting with an AEA optional for schools; they could seek help from private companies if they so wished.

However, the governor’s plan has faced significant pushback, and she has since made revisions.

The first community member to speak at the briefing was a retired educator who mentioned one situation she faced, where a student was diagnosed with macular degeneration. With the help of the AEA, she was able to find a novel way to help the student learn about visual art.

“I couldn’t have done that without my AEA,” she said.

“I appreciate that, and just trust that we are working with AEAs hand-in-hand to make this a better program,” Rep. Hora responded.

Rep. Hora explained that the issue is that AEAs are paid directly from the state government; school districts never see that money. “Not all schools use all their services,” she said, so the state would like to “empower” the school districts by sending them the funds to distribute to their AEA as they see fit.

Amy Schulte, CEO of the YMCA of Washington County, reminded the legislators that AEA reform is “not just something that impacts children in a school; those services are extended to kids that are in our childcare programs, that are in our before and after school programs.”

“We see the effects [of AEAs] firsthand,” she said, “So we think it’s very important that we don’t try to fix a problem that isn’t there.”

“I appreciate that,” Rep. Hora answered. “And like I say, it really has to do with the money.” She then invited Schulte to meet with her to discuss the issue further.

Another attendee also expressed a need for the AEAs. “I don’t know what we would do without them,” she said, mentioning that they aid her when children she screens need help with speech development.

The husband of an educator, speaking on her behalf, said that she and her peers felt that it was “rotten” that the state’s AEAs were evaluated by out-of-state companies and that there was “no input for stakeholders” when the governor put together her overhaul proposal.

“The money going directly to the AEAs without any oversight is the problem right now,” Rep. Hora reiterated. Should state funds go directly to the school districts, “I would say 99% of the time those schools are going to keep their AEAs exactly as they are,” only they would then know exactly what services, and at what cost, they were paying for.

“Nobody is trying to eliminate special education, nobody is trying to eliminate AEAs,” she assured.

A community member who worked for 36 years at an AEA before retiring said she was shocked at the scope of the governor’s proposal and felt genuine grief over essentially being labeled a “failure.”

Ken Crawford, superintendent at Highland and WACO Community Schools, expressed misgivings about the government overhaul of AEAs, including doubt about their survival should larger school districts opt out of them. In addition, “the timeline is near impossible,” should changes be slated to begin with the 2024-25 academic year in August, he said.

Other Issues

Of course, AEAs were not the only issues on the minds of community members at the legislative briefing. Several in attendance were concerned about proposed legislation that would take control over libraries away from library boards and give it to city councils. Sen. Driscoll said that she and several others in the State Senate did not support that bill, and that it will not advance.

“Your voices were heard,” she said.

Requiring political party identification for city council and school board members; support for historic preservation; labeling laws for pesticides; topsoil and clean water protection; and mental health care were all issues of concern brought up during the meeting.

Legislative Agenda

The legislators were looking ahead to funnel week – the deadline by which bills must receive committee approval or be left for dead – and mentioned some of their priorities going into it. For Rep. Hora in the House, she hoped legislation would move forward to require Holocaust education in schools; provide science credit for agriculture courses; allow chaplains in schools; and to codify the definition of ‘woman’.

Regarding that last issue, Rep. Hora said the House’s working definition is that a woman/female “produces ova” and a man/male “fertilizes ova.” The idea is that the sex indicated on a person’s birth certificate “can never be changed,” and that birth certificate will be used to “protect” college sports participation and bathroom usage.

For Sen. Driscoll, expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant mothers; establishing a behavioral health system; requiring insurance coverage of name brand prescription drugs; allowing physicians and surgeons to serve as first responders; changing the school start date to the Tuesday after the State Fair; addressing chronic absenteeism in schools; extending Ag teachers’ contracts to cover summer work; and permitting school absences for FFA activities are all actions of importance.

The next Washington County Legislative Briefing is scheduled for Friday, March 8 at noon. Location TBD; check for updates.

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