Republicans in the Iowa House have given initial approval to a plan that would end state support of preschool for all four-year-olds who’re enrolled.
During a lengthy debate on a wide-ranging budget bill, Republicans rejected the calls from Democrats to maintain state funding for preschool programs in 326 Iowa school districts. Representative Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, is chairman of the House Education Committee.
“I have been telling my constituents for the past year that there will have to be some cuts if we are ever to have a balanced budget and there will be programs that go away and they may be popular programs and you may be angry with us, but if we are to do our job to reduce the budget to sustainable levels, somethings have to go away,” Forristall said. “We don’t see the proof that the preschool program is the be-all (and) end-all.”
Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said it’s about priorities. “The House Republican proposal to eliminate preschool for 20,000 Iowa kids is exactly the wrong priority,” Olson said.
Representative Jeremy Taylor, a Republican from Sioux City, said Republicans propose subsidies or vouchers for low-income parents who want to send their kids to preschool.
“The Ebenezer Scrooges of the world are not taking away education from the Tiny Tims,” Taylor said. “…We believe this program ought to be means tested.”
Republicans say the state should stop subsidizing preschool for the children of parents who can afford to pay the tuition. Democrats like Representative Bruce Hunter, a Democrat from Des Moines, say Iowa already has more working parents than any other state and working class parents will find it hard to pay for preschool. “The Republicans are obviously saying, ‘Go get a paper route,'” Hunter said.
The Republican budget bill calls for an end to state support for a variety of anti-smoking programs. The legislation also would create a “Taxpayer Relief Fund.” Taxes not spent by the end of the state budgeting year would go into this fund. Republicans say over $300 million would be deposited in the fund on June 30 if their plan becomes law. Democrats control the debate agenda in the state senate, so the future of the entire package — including the proposal to end state support of preschool — is uncertain.