Late last spring Governor Branstad and Republicans backed away from their proposal to end state-funded preschool and, instead, only supply subsidies to low-income parents. Democrats agreed to slightly reduce the level of state support for preschool programs and superintendents say the programs are not only in-the-black — some are carrying a surplus.
Carlisle Superintendant Tom Lane says his district has accumulated a $120,000 surplus over the past four years.
“I think it’s typical a lot of times with any government program, whether it’s preschool or anything, perhaps they invest in it initially to make sure that it gets off to a good start than needed,” Lane says.
Iowa school districts, in total, are carrying a $20 million surplus for their preschool programs, but some school adminsitrators are struggling to run their preschools as they had in the past. Mindy Mossman, the elementary school principal in Webster City, says the reduction in state support has made transportation an issue.
“So we’ve just got to look at efficiency, just making sure we’re most efficient with our routes, anything we can do to watch that cost,” Mossman says. “But we know in these economic times we also have people that only have one car, or things they’ve had to cut back on, so we know that transportation is one of the things that helps every single one of our students participate.”
North Polk just began enrolling four-year-olds in preschool last year and even though state support was higher last year, superintendent Dan Mart had to line-up outside funding to cover some of the expenses.
“For example, there’s some safety things you have to do as part of the preschool grant or there might be an equipment shed that’s needed to put the appropriate age-level toys in that are expenses that were not allowable in part of the preschool grant,” Mart says. “So I think those are the concerns we had going into this, the amount of outside funding that we had to use for start up costs.”
Mart says he’s just relieved the legislature kept the state subsidy for all students enrolled in preschool.