Senate signs off on House AEA, teacher pay bill

Bill now goes to Governor with 2.5% increase in SSA funding


FORT MADISON – A bill to restructure the state’s Area Education Agencies, increase teacher pay, and provide a 2.5% increase in the state’s student aid formula is moving to the governor’s desk, but with opposition from area education officials.
House File 2612 allocates all money currently assigned to AEA’s for media and general education back to schools, and raises teacher pay to $50,000 for beginning teachers over the next two years. It also includes a State Supplemental Aid increase of 2.5% for the upcoming year.
AEAs would continue receiving 90% of the state funding that they currently receive, while school districts would have control over 10%.
School districts control all the state dollars for media and general education services that currently go to the AEAs allowing them to spend the money on private vendors, or continue working with the AEAs, all under a fee-for-service model.
Rep. Martin Graber (Dist. 100-FM) said he thinks the rural districts will likely continue relationships with AEAs as they currently do. Graber voted against the bill in the House.
“I think in our area with smaller schools, they’ll go right back to AEAs and do business with them,” Graber said. “The intent here is to make (AEAs) better so our kids get all the possible help they can. I don’t dislike the bill, but my constituents told me they didn’t like it so I didn’t vote for it.”
Teacher pay will increase to a minimum of $47,500 this year and $50,000 next year, up from $33,500. The bill also includes new state money for schools to raise experienced teachers' salaries, and increase pay for non-salaried school staff.
Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said she supports increasing teacher pay and she is hopeful the funds will be sustainable. But she said district funds will still be needed for other increases that are part of the bill.
“District funds will still be needed to address salary increases for teachers who earn over the minimum threshold amount,” she said.
The bill will also create an additional special education department within the state’s Department of Education. Slater said any human or fiscal resources diverted away from local districts does not support local student learning.
She said the bill does contain some positive adjustments, however she called it “an overreach to correct perceived concerns that do not exist in all of the state’s AEAs.”
“We will continue to utilize the AEA for services.  Small, rural districts do not have the plethora of contractors and vendors that urban or large districts may have access to,” Slater said.
“This is why this bill should be paused to allow stakeholders from urban, suburban and rural districts to educate policy makers as to the potential unintended consequences of such a bill. The timeline to implement such changes for personnel, budgets and services for the district and children is untenable.”
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said she’s looking forward to the work of implementing the bill, which passed the senate on a 38-14 vote and carried the support of District 50 Sen. Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose).
“Today’s vote by the Senate sends a strong message: every Iowa student deserves a world class education, and the compensation of every Iowa teacher should reflect the importance of their role.,” Reynolds said in a release to media Tuesday afternoon.
“Over the last several weeks, this bill has been the focus of much discussion and debate. Change is seldom easy, but it is necessary to achieve better results. Reforming the AEA system creates accountability, transparency, consistency, and most importantly, better outcomes for all Iowa’s students.”
Graber said he voted against the bill because all the emails, calls and correspondence he received asked him not to support it.
“Just like the unemployment bill, I listened to my constituents. Teacher pay was embedded in the bill, but I took the lead from my constituents,” Graber said.
However he said did like that paraeducators pay was increased and a new work group was set up to get parties involved in another look at the state's AEAs.
“Everybody I talked to said reform is necessary and needed but without throwing the AEAs under the bus. We’re very fortunate in our area with AEA, but it’s my understanding if you go up one more step it isn’t that great,” Graber said
“We don’t want to do anything to hurt students who receive services there, their parents, and we don’t want to kill the AEAs.”
A coalition of 31 superintendents around the state including Slater and Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier issued a statement earlier indicating deep concerns about the proposed changes to the AEAs. Crozier was not available for comment on the passage of the bill.
The coalition statement indicated a concern for the fee-for-service approach that would be part of the district’s 10% funding for general education services and media services.
“Our message is clear: we are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the AEAs, especially the shift towards a "Fee-for-Service" approach. The value of the AEA system as designed is that it is a cooperative that ensures that every school district, regardless of size or location, has access to the services it needs to serve students. Rural school districts, in particular, rely heavily on AEAs for critical support. Disrupting a model that has largely worked over the past 50 years will have grave consequences for the students we serve.”
Nannette Griffin, who is opposing Reichman in the general election for the District 50 seat, said the overhaul is risky to area children.
"The Senate Republicans' decision to gut the AEAs despite bipartisan opposition jeopardizes crucial resources and support systems vital for student success. These agencies are crucial in delivering educational services and support across the state. Notably, the Great Prairie AEA serves around 35,000 children across southeast Iowa. Jeff Reichman's vote put those students' education at risk.”
The governor is planning to sign the bill on Wednesday.

Fort Madison, Iowa, education, superintendents, Area Education Associations, Erin Slater, Martin Graber, officials, Kim Reynolds, governor, news, Pen City Current


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