The Value of Iowa AEAs: A Passionate Plea for Continued Support

By Joel Pedersen, Chief Administrator, Central Rivers Area Education Agency

Chief Joel Pedersen (young)
Joel Pedersen, age 9

As the Chief Administrator of Central Rivers Area Education Agency, I have had the privilege of witnessing the immense value of Iowa AEAs firsthand throughout my life. From my early days as a child benefiting from AEA speech and language services to my career as a school teacher and administrator who utilized these services, and now as the Chief Administrator advocating for their importance, I can tell you that, despite all the rhetoric and “data” being shared, AEAs work.

In the past few weeks, our education community has raised its voice in unity. Parents, teachers, superintendents, principals, physicians, and even students have joined together to express their concerns about the Governor’s proposed changes to AEA services. These changes threaten to diminish the AEAs into a mere shadow of the vital system they are today, and the repercussions could be detrimental to our children, families, and especially our smaller school districts. We are at a crossroads.

At the heart of this discussion are the critically important services that students, families, and educators rely on every single day. Special Education, Media Services, and Education Services have been integral components of the AEA’s mission since its inception. Every district and every child supported by our AEAs has access to a network of interconnected services tailored to meet the unique needs of districts, classrooms, and individual students. We have relationships with those we serve and are working hard every single day to improve outcomes for students. 

I firmly believe that any plan aiming to isolate one service from the others is a step away from supporting the holistic development of our children, including those who benefit most from special education services. This is not protecting “the system” as some have claimed. This is protecting a framework of support that was built upon an economy of scale approach that saves tax dollars and keeps services as close as possible to children and families. 

We owe it to the schools and families we serve to stand up for a system that upholds the services that children, educators, and families rightfully deserve. As of now, we have not seen a plan that surpasses the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing AEA system and we are continuing to engage in meaningful conversations and advocate for solutions that genuinely benefit our communities.

Iowa AEAs have always been open to change and improvement, and we remain committed to this principle. We invite stakeholders to join us in continued constructive conversations with policymakers, offering your perspectives and expertise. Together, we can forge a path forward that unites us and preserves the invaluable Iowa AEA system, ensuring a brighter future for all Iowans. This matters.