The Iowa Legislature established Iowa’s Area Education Agencies in 1974 to be an effective, efficient and economical means of identifying and serving children from birth to age 21 who require special education services. This decision was a result of the federal law mandating a free, appropriate, public education for children with disabilities. The Iowa legislature was also plagued with complaints about inequitable services from district to district across Iowa.
At that time, 25 percent of students in need of special education were receiving the needed special services and special, segregated schools for children with behavior disorders had been closed. AEAs remain responsible in ensuring that all children with disabilities receive the assistance they need to be successful.
The original 15 AEAs followed the boundaries of the community college system. In 2000, the AEAs asked for legislation allowing for voluntary mergers of AEAs. Since that time, several AEA mergers have taken place and there are now nine AEAs due to mergers across the state. Here's the timeline of those mergers:
|Date of Merger||Merging AEAs||New AEA|
|July 1, 2003||Northern Trails AEA 2, AEA 6 & AEA 7||AEA 267 (Named Central Rivers AEA in July 2017.)|
|July 1, 2003||Arrowhead & Lakeland||
Prairie Lakes AEA
|July 1, 2006||AEA 4 & Western Hills||Northwest AEA|
|July 1, 2008||Great River & Southern Prairie||Great Prairie|
|July 1, 2010||Loess Hills & Green Valley||Green Hills|
Area Education Agencies continue to work as educational partners with every public and accredited, nonpublic school in Iowa to improve the learning outcomes and well being of all students.
Iowa’s AEAs work as partners to provide these services to every Iowa public school district and accredited, nonpublic school to improve the learning outcomes and well-being of all children and youth:
Special Education services comprise about 80 percent of the AEA budget and include:
Educational Services includes:
Media services include:
Early ACCESS is a partnership between families with young children (birth to age 3) and providers from Iowa’s AEAs, the Iowa Departments of Education, Public Health and Human Services, and Child Health Specialty Clinics. Families and Early ACCESS staff work together to identify, coordinate and provide needed services and resources that help families assist their infants and toddlers in their growth and development.
Early Childhood Special Education services are available to children ages 3-5 who may be identified as needing special education services. The AEA is the system within Iowa who has been given the responsibility for identifying children with special needs.
AEAs also provide special education instruction at correctional facilities, youth shelter care classrooms, juvenile homes and other special schools.
Iowa's AEAs are widely regarded as one of the foremost regional service systems in the country, offering programs that can be provided most equitably, efficiently and economically on a regional or cooperative basis among school districts.