The woman Governor Tom Vilsack just asked to lead the Iowa Department of Education is now helping articulate Vilsack’s call for education reform. Vilsack has been giving campaign-style speeches the past few months, calling for a variety of education reform, especially more spending on preschool. Judy Jeffrey, the recently-named director of the Iowa Department of Education, says the state must do more to ensure kids are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. “You’ve heard this from the governor and just about every legislative platform has early childhood as a priority,” Jeffrey says. During a recent speech, Jeffrey outlined the stats. Only 19 percent of Iowa three- and four-year-olds have access to what Jeffrey considers “high-quality” preschools. Jeffrey says at the same time, Iowa has the third-highest percentage of children under the age of six who have both parents working. “Just think about that,” she says. Jeffrey says a similar push a few years ago got almost all Iowa schools to offer all-day, every-day kindergarten.Ninety-five percent of Iowa school districts now offer all-day, every-day kindergarten. By comparison, only 41 percent did in 1991. “It shows how we understand the need of the students we serve,” Jeffrey says. “That’s an example of how Iowans respond to needs without mandates.” Neither Jeffrey nor Vilsack is talking about requiring Iowa school districts to offer preschool to children in their areas, but Vilsack does say the state needs to do something to ensure more parents can enroll their preschoolers in a quality program.
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