A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

There’s a beloved children’s book titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and it gets worse from there. 

After Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech on January 9, Area Education Agencies woke up with gum in their hair and it became a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.”

Before that speech there were only hints that Reynolds wanted to fix the AEA structure and centralize power with the Iowa Department of Education. Prior to the speech, she announced there needed to be a comprehensive review of AEAs.

The day after the speech, the comprehensive study morphed into a full-blown proposal to dismantle the AEAs, submitted to the legislature.

Her proposal met with strong resistance from educators, parents, and community leaders. Because of the opposition, and because many Republican legislators had children and grandchildren helped by AEA services, the House bill was amended and stalled in the Education Committee. But after Reynolds twisted arms, Republicans approved an AEA bill on February 29. House File 2612 was quite different from both the governor’s original proposal and the revised plan the governor’s office released in late January.

Republicans have the trifecta of power, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. That’s the case with the AEA bills. The Senate didn’t agree with the House bill, so the legislation lay dormant for weeks.

On March 18, the Senate passed an amended version of House File 2612 by 28 votes to 22, with six Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition. 

It’s still “a gum in the hair bill.”

The idea of contacting services with private companies for special education services is unresolved because that’s not in the House version. Also unresolved is the teacher pay details. The House passed a stand-alone teacher pay increase, but the Senate followed the governor’s lead and combined teacher pay with the AEA bill. The latest version of House File 2612, which House members approved on March 21, includes provisions to raise teacher salaries as well as wages for para-educators.

Why is it so hard to reach agreement? AEAs have been delivering quality services to schools for 50 years. Their work is often invisible to everyone except the parents of special education students and to educators.

If changes are needed, it will require a truly comprehensive study, as the governor suggested back when the wind chill was in negative numbers. That study needs to involve teachers, parents, and administrators.

Both versions of the AEA bill are flawed.

But the amended version of House File 2612 passed by the Senate would cripple rural schools. Private vendors will go to where the money is. That’s not rural Iowa. If such vendors even exist, they’ll want to be in cities and suburbs. Rural schools will be left with diminished AEA services after private vendors cherry pick the more lucrative urban and suburban schools.

What happens when the for-profit vendors decide they’re not making enough profit and raise the rates beyond the funding? Schools will have to make regular education cuts or switch back to the AEA.  Those changes will provide no consistency for students who need it the most.

The teacher pay plan deserves its own bill. If Republicans want to motivate veteran teachers to look for the exits, they’ll only pass a minimum salary bill. That will be a prescription for conflict within schools because beginning teachers will earn more than those who have taught for years.

The best way to provide raises is through the salary schedules. I like the idea of a minimum salary for professional support staff. But the same idea applies. $15 an hour (the level set in the separate bill the House approved in early March) isn’t enough, and it would do nothing for veteran staff.

The most recent contortion in this horrible, terrible, no good, very bad year, is the 49-page Amended House File 2612 rammed through with few legislators having time to read the bill before the floor vote on March 21.

I’d have to add another give pages to this article to go through all the contortions in this so-called compromise. So, I’ll summarize it this way:

It’s an awful compromise between two bad bills.

It does nothing to improve services to kids and does everything to centralize power with the Iowa Department of Education and the governor. If there were fairness in political labeling, it would be called the “Kim Reynolds Appeasement Act.”

This fight is not over. Please call your senators and tell them there are two reasonable outcomes for the AEAs. Leave them alone or do a real comprehensive study with all stakeholders represented on the task force.

As Alexander realized, everyone has bad days, but they can get better. It’s up to Republican legislators to make that happen for the AEAs.

About the Author(s)

Bruce Lear

  • bit by bit they are cutting away the roots

    let’s hope the President and his campaign take up our fight

  • request of Bruce

    After the session ends, I would like to read from Laura, yourself and others a list of what should have been enacted, how this corresponds to what Iowans need, compared to what was passed.