Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line
Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.
Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.
Currently, AEAs provide elementary general education classrooms with book sets that align with state standards for each grade level. Within each book set are checkpoints that students complete to demonstrate learning comprehension. If students do not meet the goal or excel beyond the goal, then teachers can pull materials specific to that student.
To illustrate this point, envision a second grade classroom, in which five students read at a fourth grade level and five read at a kindergarten level, while the remainder read at a second grade level. The teacher can pull materials from a fourth grade book set for the advanced students and a kindergarten book set for students needing additional assistance. This ensures that each student meets literacy goals and will thrive in future educational and career settings.
Heartland AEA provides a book rotation system for the school districts it serves. The book rotation program supplements regular school or classroom libraries. The books can vary by theme, grade level or topic. An estimated 14.9 percent of Iowa’s adult population exhibits lower than average literacy, and 38 percent of fourth graders test at a lower than grade level ability, according to a 2019 Literacy Gap Snapshot by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
As literacy rates waver nationally, it is important to help educators ensure their students learn to read. Teachers cannot combat literacy rates on their own, and the AEA works tirelessly to aid classrooms; guaranteeing each Iowa student a high-quality education.
By harming the AEAs, Governor Reynolds would weaken the public education system broadly. Public schools serve every single student with wide ranges of abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and future aspirations. Note that public schools remain the only place where many students with disabilities can receive an education, as private schools are ill-equipped to manage students who need IEP and 504 educational plans to accommodate their disabilities. Reducing support to AEAs would diminish the quality of education kids across the state of Iowa receive.
The governor’s bill, Senate Study Bill 3073, proposes that school districts use general funds to pay for AEA support. However, general funds already strain under the costs of paying and retaining esteemed educators. Compounding AEA payment with the governor’s proposal to pay new teachers at least $50,000 annually, smaller districts will not survive. In the long term, rural districts will consolidate and close.
Those trends would inevitably increase enrollment in private schools, made possible by the “school choice” legislation enacted in 2023. As a result of consolidating districts, students’ education will compound into private, mostly religious-based schools, which largely lack the capability to accommodate IEP and 504 plans.
Although this anti-AEA bill would particularly harm special education, its potential impact on general education and the public education system as a whole cannot be overlooked.
Editor’s note from Laura Belin: Alexandra Bylund spoke during the Iowa Senate subcommittee meeting on the governor’s AEA bill on January 31. You can listen to her remarks here. Republican State Senators Lynn Evans and Ken Rozenboom advanced the bill, but made clear it needs further amendment. At this writing, it has not been brought before the full Senate Education Committee.