Editorial Roundup: Iowa


Des Moines Register. 18 February 2024.

Editorial: Deal with AEA. We don’t see evidence of this iowa Special education crisis.

If the problem is undefined then no solution can be usefully formulated. Iowa needs to make sure it has been asked the right questions before formulating its answers.

But that foundation is no more established today than on Jan. 9 when Governor Kim Reynolds first shocked teachers and families with a plan to blow up the half-century-old — venerable, some would say — area education agency network that facilitates services. Provides for children and some adults with disabilities.

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Republicans start a pair of hearings and run in the Iowa House new legislation He would adopt some of Reynolds’ ideas and order a task force to study the future of AEA over the next 10 months. A Senate committee passed a version that is closer to Reynolds’ original plan.

But it is still not clear why anything is so wrong that it would be necessary to make radical changes in the AEA before any such task force can function.

Because no one has provided credible evidence that special education is in serious crisis in Iowa, legislators should remove all but the task force language from House Study Bill 713 and leave the topic alone by 2025 Needed

Don’t formulate a solution until you define the problem

Reynolds’ proposal would have made special education appropriations a free-for-all and eliminated nearly one-quarter of AEA’s services and tens of millions of dollars in funding, leaving school districts scrambling to fill the void. This dealt a blow unprecedented in Reynolds’ seven years as governor, with Iowa House Republicans refusing to advance his legislation.

One reason for the disagreement about special education prescriptions is that there is still little agreement about what problems exist.

The state paid consultant Guidehouse to conduct an external evaluation of the AEA; Its report was not publicly available when Reynolds argued that other states do a better job of teaching residents with disabilities and spend less money to do it. Since journalists obtained the Guidehouse report, Iowans have criticized its methods and logic. For example, Guidehouse cites federal data claiming that Iowa’s per pupil spending for special education is higher than the national average, which is hard to believe because it shows that 12 states spent $0 on special education Is.

Ted Stillwill, former director of the Iowa Department of Education. In a post on the Bleeding Heartland blogsaid that the state-by-state comparison of test scores in the report was simplistic at best due to many variables, most importantly how each state defines disability, which are difficult to take into account.

If the problem is undefined then no solution can be usefully formulated. Iowa needs to make sure it has been asked the right questions before formulating its answers.

Legislators have made reforms, but their bills are still moving too fast

However, any bills that survived last week’s “funnel” deadline did not slow down that much. And while the House bill in particular is far more thoughtful than Reynolds’ offering, each piece of the legislation goes further than is required right now.

Each bill would ultimately allow districts to choose third-party providers for at least some of the services that are currently handled by the AEA. This will, at the very least, complicate budget planning in the AEA. It is also seen as another case of privatization of essential government functions by the state, with Medicaid and Reynolds’ education savings accounts being the most high-profile examples. In this case, AEAs provide specific subject matter expertise that may not be widely available in the marketplace.

“I think you’ll see the majority of schools continue to stick with AEA,” said Sen. Lynn Evans, an Aurelia Republican who is a former teacher and school administrator. Democrats countered that this seems contrary to the idea that AEAs are not doing acceptable work.

Under both bills, AEAs will lose most of their autonomy. The Senate plan would create a larger division of special education in the Iowa Department of Education, while the House version would proceed more cautiously on that change.

“I’m glad to see something happen that at least has some input from stakeholders,” said Representative Sharon Steckman, a Mason City Democrat.

The House version also keeps AEA as the sole provider of special education services.

“This is not the final product,” said House Education Committee Chairman Skylar Wheeler. “We are working on resetting the conversation.”

Lobbyists and legislative Democrats were right to call the House bill encouraging. But the conditions for making legislation on the subject cannot be “less harmful than originally feared”.

Good idea: handle minimum teacher salary separately

It was unclear why that plan was attached to the special education bill in the first place, other than the governor’s penchant for plans that offset increases in state spending: Increase teacher pay by taking money out of the AEA. Cover women on Medicaid for up to one year after termination of pregnancy, but Reduce the number of women using Medicaid in the first place.

The work is not over for AEA defenders

The developments of the past week are good news for Iowa families and teachers. But the advocates who helped kill Reynolds’ proposal must keep up the pressure.

Legislators could do better than stepping back from the brink. They should focus their energies on identifying members for the task force and accelerating its charge. Wheeler said he doesn’t see the topic as a partisan one, and he’s right. To figure out how to best serve Iowa’s children, lawmakers must put the remaining bills on hold until we all have a clear picture of what’s happening.

Copyright 2024 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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