A constructive proposal to improve Iowa's AEAs

A mother of a child with disabilities speaks to members of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31 about Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to overhaul Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin) The full Iowa Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider an amended version of the governor’s bill on February 14.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this text to all 150 Iowa legislators on February 3. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to AEAs are available here and here.

Dear Iowa State Senators and State Representatives:

My name is David Tilly. I am the parent of a child with a disability, a school psychologist and for the last 8+ years of my career I worked as the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education. I’d like to use my time today to begin discussion of how we might use the energy that has been generated by the AEA bills toward a positive result.

I would like to propose the creation of an independent bi-partisan commission to comprehensively study AEAs over the next year and make recommendations for improvement. This commission should be created by statute this session, and the commission should propose a bill to enact their recommendations, due by January 1, 2025. The services of the Legislative Service Agency should be made available to the commission to assist in drafting their bill.

Because of the trust issues that have been generated by this year’s bills, I would propose that this commission be comprised solely of Iowans and all contractors employed by the commission be Iowans. The commission should not be run by the Governor’s office, the Legislature, the Iowa Department of Education nor the AEAs – though these groups should all be represented on the commission. The commission should be co-chaired with one Republican and one Democrat co-chair and I would propose a budget of $750,000. I would further recommend that these cochairs be sitting or recently retired School Superintendents with many years of training and experience. The commission budget would be used strictly to hire Iowa-based experts to gather data and answer questions posed by the study and to run comprehensive community forums to engage Iowans on their perspectives on AEA improvement. Commission leadership should hire or appoint leaders of workgroups that might complete their work simultaneously, so the deadline can be met. Workgroups should include but not be limited to:

  • Finance
  • Governance Structures
  • AEA Oversight
  • Services AEAs should provide in 2024 – i.e., a review of AEA Standards
  • District’s satisfaction with, and role in guiding AEA services
  • Parental, student and community involvement in guiding AEA services
  • How to raise SPED student achievement across the state

The authorizing statute should further specify a minimum set of questions that must be addressed by the commission’s work. I am certain that a list of questions can be generated easily from the communications to the General Assembly this session.

Iowa has a rich history of working together to solve problems. We know how to do this! The energy that has been generated across the state as AEA services have been called into question can be harnessed toward positive results for Iowa Children, Families and Communities. I respectfully ask that general assembly consider options that will move us collectively in that direction. 

Thank you for your service to Iowa.

Technical post script. I would recommend running the budget for the commission through a school district, preferably the district of one of the co-chair superintendents. I would request that the Co-chairs be authorized to hire the Iowa experts of the commission’s choice and that in cases of ALL contracts of more than $25K (for things like a contractor to do community engagement work), the competitive quotes process used by the Department of Administrative Services be allowed instead of the Request for Proposals (RFP) process. This should be specified in the bill. This will facilitate the work groups being able to complete their work within one year. In the case that the commission is required to use the RFP process for larger contracts, the due date for the report should be moved back one year to January 1, 2026 and DAS procurement should be made available to assist the commission in running the RFPs.

About the Author(s)

David Tilly

  • is there any evidence

    that Grassley or others in charge don’t support the Gov on this?

  • neither House nor Senate Rs moved the governor's bill

    House and Senate Republicans advanced the AEA bill through committee with major amendments that make it very different from the governor’s original proposal.

  • thanks for the update

    I guess we’ll see how much they take away from folks