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Reynolds revises plan to reform area education agencies after backlash

Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced that she will amend her proposal to overhaul the state’s system of providing special education services, following criticism from educators, parents, and lawmakers.

What is the original plan and why is it controversial?

Reynolds’ original plan, introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542, would give school districts more control over how they use the state and federal funding for special education services, which currently goes to the area education agencies (AEAs). The AEAs are regional entities that provide a range of services to schools, such as special education, professional development, media, and technology.

The governor said her plan was aimed at improving the outcomes for students with disabilities, who have been lagging behind their peers in academic achievement and graduation rates. She also said the plan would increase accountability and transparency by shifting the oversight of special education from the AEAs to the Iowa Department of Education.

However, the plan faced strong opposition from many stakeholders, who argued that it would undermine the role and funding of the AEAs, which have been serving the state’s schools for over 40 years. They also expressed concerns that the plan would create inequities among districts, especially those in rural areas that rely heavily on the AEAs for support. Some also questioned the timing and urgency of the plan, which was introduced without much consultation or input from the education community.

Reynolds revises plan to reform area education agencies after backlash

How will the plan be changed and what are the implications?

In response to the feedback, Reynolds said she and lawmakers are working on an amendment that will address some of the concerns raised by the critics. The amendment will propose:

  • Automatically shifting the control of state and federal special education funding from the AEAs to the school districts.
  • Allowing schools to retain their share of AEA funding for general education services, such as media and technology.
  • Continuing to provide all special education services by the AEAs, including Child Find and Early ACCESS for children from birth to three years of age.
  • Allowing schools to request and receive general education services and media services from the AEAs, subject to the approval of the Department of Education.
  • Shifting the oversight of special education from the AEAs to the Department of Education.

Reynolds said the amendment will ensure that the students with disabilities receive the world-class education they deserve, while also preserving the role and funding of the AEAs. She said she is open to further discussions and suggestions to improve the plan.

The amendment is expected to be introduced in the legislative session soon. It is unclear how it will be received by the education community and the lawmakers, who have been divided on the issue. Some have praised the governor for listening to the feedback and making changes, while others have remained skeptical or opposed to the plan.

What are the challenges and opportunities for special education in Iowa?

The debate over the governor’s plan has highlighted the challenges and opportunities for special education in Iowa, which serves about 80,000 students with disabilities, or 14% of the total student population.

According to the latest data from the Department of Education, Iowa ranks 41st in the nation in the graduation rate of students with disabilities, at 72.5%, compared to the national average of 80.6%. Iowa also ranks 48th in the nation in the gap between the graduation rates of students with and without disabilities, at 16.9 percentage points, compared to the national average of 9.6 percentage points.

The Department of Education has acknowledged the need to improve the outcomes for students with disabilities and has launched several initiatives, such as the State Systemic Improvement Plan, the Iowa IDEA Determinations Process, and the Special Education Advisory Panel. The department has also received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the implementation of evidence-based practices in special education.

The governor’s plan, whether in its original or amended form, will have a significant impact on the delivery and quality of special education services in Iowa. It will also affect the collaboration and coordination among the various stakeholders, such as the school districts, the AEAs, the Department of Education, the parents, and the students. The plan will require careful evaluation and monitoring to ensure that it achieves its intended goals and does not create unintended consequences.

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