What you need to know about AEA, the teacher pay bill that Kim Reynolds just signed
What you need to know about AEA, the teacher pay bill that Kim Reynolds just signed

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Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a sweeping education bill to restructure funding for the state’s regional education agencies, raise elementary teacher pay to $50,000 and give Iowa schools a 2.5 percent funding increase for next year.

Reynolds, a Republican, signed the education package in a ceremony Wednesday afternoon in the governor’s office at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

The legislation, House File 2612, contains the top education priorities Reynolds laid out in his State of the State address in January.

“House File 2612 will improve special education for students with disabilities and raise salaries for new and experienced teachers—two essential pillars of a world-class education system, which is exactly what we strive to provide for every student in our state.” Reynolds said.

It gives school districts control over pools of state funding that now go to AEAs for general education and media services, allowing them to spend the money on private providers or continue to operate AEAs on a fee-for-service model.

AEAs—currently the sole provider of special education services—would continue to receive 90 percent of the state funding they currently receive for special education, while school districts would control the remaining 10 percent.

The bill was very controversial.

Education advocates staged protests at the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion in opposition to the bill. Parents of students with disabilities have appeared at legislative hearings saying they believe the legislation will harm the services their children receive. And Democrats have vowed to make the legislation a campaign issue this fall.

More ▼: Iowa lawmakers pass AEA bill, move to increase teacher pay, handing Gov. Reynolds victory

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, told reporters that Reynolds’ celebration of the bill showed she was “completely out of touch” with Iowans.

“When you look at the celebration that she’s throwing, I want you to think about the families who have so much uncertainty now as they wonder what’s going to happen to services in their communities, what’s going to happen to their children who are receiving AEA services.” she said, “There are so many questions.

Some superintendents say it’s necessary to give school districts more control over money so they can better tailor services to the needs of their students.

How will special education funding change under the AEA Act?

The legislation makes several changes to how AEA is funded and whether school districts must continue to use the agencies for certain services.

AEAs are funded through a combination of state, federal and local property tax dollars. They offer special education services to school districts, as well as media services and general education services.

The law makes no changes to special education funding in the 2024-25 school year. In the 2025-26 school year and beyond, districts will receive the state special education funding that goes to AEA, but they will be required to send 90 percent of that money to AEA while keeping the remaining 10 percent.

AEAs received about $156 million in special education funding from the state in the current fiscal year, according to an analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Federal funding for special education will continue to go to AEAs.

How will funding for other AEA services change under the law?

The law also gradually gives school districts control over all state money for media services and general education services that AEA now receives.

In the 2024-25 school year, school districts will receive 60 percent of the media and general education services funding, and AEAs will receive 40 percent. Schools can choose whether to continue to contract with AEAs for these services on a fee-for-service model or to use a private provider.

Starting next year, school districts will receive all state funding for media and general education services and will be able to choose whether to use AEA.

AEAs currently receive about $35.7 million for general education services and $32.3 million for media services, according to an analysis of the bill.

More ▼: Which Iowa legislators voted to overhaul AEA, raise teacher pay? Here’s the summary:

The law creates a new special education division within the Iowa Department of Education

The law authorizes the Department of Education to create a special education division with 13 new employees in Des Moines and 40 more to be based within the AEA statewide.

The law also creates a task force to study and make recommendations about the AEA system. The group must submit a report of its findings to the Iowa Legislature by Dec. 31.

The law limits how much AEA administrators can be paid

The salary of AEA administrators shall not exceed 125% of the average salary of superintendents in their AEA region.

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll conducted in late February found that a majority of Iowans (56%) have a favorable view of the AEA, while 24% view them unfavorably and 20% are unsure.

How does the bill increase teacher, paraeducator pay?

The legislation raises the minimum pay for beginning teachers to $47,500 next school year and to $50,000 the following year, up from $33,500 under current law.

It sets a minimum salary of $60,000 for teachers with at least 12 years of experience next school year before raising that minimum to $62,000 next year.

And the law has $22 million for schools to use to increase pay for experienced teachers and another $14 million to increase pay for unpaid school staff, such as paraeducators.

“Iowa currently ranks in the bottom half of states for starting teacher pay, and with this increase we move up to the top five in the nation,” Reynolds said. “But even better than our ranking is the message it sends to current and future teachers: Iowa values ​​education and those who dedicate their careers to students, and their pay should absolutely reflect that.”

The Iowa Poll found that 76 percent of Iowans support raising the minimum teacher pay to $50,000 a year, while 22 percent oppose the increase and 2 percent are unsure.

How much funding do K-12 schools in Iowa receive under the law?

The law also increases per-pupil state aid to schools by 2.5 percent, an increase of $191 per student, bringing total state funding for K-12 public schools to $3.8 billion.

The state is also expected to spend $179.2 million next year on private education savings accounts.

What are Iowa politicians saying about the AEA legislation?

Reynolds said she has traveled the state to meet with superintendents and other representatives of about 150 school districts on the bill, including supporters and opponents.

“Everyone was willing to come to the table with their questions, their concerns and their ideas. And I’m proud to say that actually a lot of their feedback is reflected in the final bill,” she said. “So I want to thank everyone who took the time to meet with me. This input made all the difference, and I believe your students will be better served because of your involvement in the process.”

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull, the chairman of the House Education Committee, said at the bill’s signing Wednesday that Republicans had “brought everyone to the table” to discuss the bill.

“We’ve had multiple meetings with everyone and worked with all parties to reach an agreement that is a win for education in our state,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Pam Jocum, D-Dubuque, released a statement thanking Iowans who spoke out against the bill, saying Reynolds failed to listen to their concerns.

“Governor Reynolds called for an attack on Iowa’s regional education agencies that no one asked for and no one wanted. She bullied it through the Republican-led Legislature and signed it into law today,” Jocum said. “Every step of the way, Iowans have told her to stop, slow down, engage stakeholders and collaborate on real improvements to special education in Iowa. She never listened to them and now the parents and children will face the consequences.”

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa State House and registry politics. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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