State officials set to begin offering preschool tuition assistance to low-income families are working on how to define standards for quality preschool. Last spring lawmakers approved 4-point-6-million dollars to help parents afford quality care for their preschool-age children. Now, as local empowerment boards get closer to awarding individual grants, state officials are considering which preschools qualify. Dee Gethmann is Early Childhood Consultant for the Department of Education. She says the program would implement early-learning activities and lay out a curriculum. She says another part will be family involvement and letting parents know what’ll be taught. There’d be environmental standards for health and safety, as well as standards for nutrition and good daily health practices. Gethman says there’s national research that shows those criteria are proven to produce good results. But Republican State Representative Jodi Tymeson of Winterset says she’s concerned some of the standards that are set up will rule out many preschools already in operation, especially the recommendation that they be nationally accredited. She says that takes a lot of money — which in the long run the parents will pay for and Tymeson says it’ll decrease access. “But there is no evidence that a private provider that’s not nationally-accredited is not providing a quality experience,” Tymeson says, and adds she thinks parents can judge whether their child’s at a “quality preschool” or not. Tymeson says the intent of the legislature was to make sure as many preschools as possible qualify — so more parents can get financial assistance. Palo Alto’s “empowerment area” came to talk to the committee and told her that our of 18 providers in their area, only one was going to qualify for the tuition funding. She says the preschool committee’s working to make sure “all of the providers out there are able to help parents access preschool.” State officials say they think they’ve found a reasonable compromise — any preschool can qualify, so long as it’s set a timeline for meeting at least one of the quality standards.
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