A national survey ranks Iowa 14th among the states in the percentage of children enrolled in state-funded preschool.
The “State of Preschool” report gives state-funded programs in Iowa high marks for quality. However, when it comes to per child spending, Iowa ranks 29th.
Former Governor Vilsack, a Democrat, pushed to have the State of Iowa begin financing preschool programs and Democrat Chet Culver, the current governor, took up the cause. If any of the three Republican candidates for governor are elected in November, preschool funding is likely to be on the chopping block.
Bob Vander Plaats, a Sioux City business consultant, says he is “economically and philosophically” opposed to “universal preschool” for three- and four-year-olds. “Parents should be in charge. Churches should be in charge. Non-profits should be in charge,” Vander Plaats says. “But I don’t think that’s where government should be.”
Vander Plaats, who is a former public school teacher and coach, says the “formative years” are key to a child’s future, but he rejects the idea of government-paid preschool. “One of the best things I could do (as governor) is grow this economy so moms and dads have the ability to provide for preschool or for one of them to stay home and provide that early education at that time,” Vander Plaats says.
Rod Roberts, a state representative from Carroll, says there’s $45 million budgeted this year to provide public preschool to Iowa four year olds — money he argues should have been spent on the K-through-12 system. “Eventually it will ramp up and cost at least $100 million,” Roberts says. “It’s a classic example of state government going beyond our means, creating a new program that we could not sustain into the future.”
Roberts says policymakers need to “look seriously” at ending state funding for preschool. “We would have been better off allowing our private providers to continue to provide that quality education for our four-year-olds,” Roberts says.
Former Governor Terry Branstad says boosting state funding for preschool is another one of Governor Culver’s “reckless and irresponsible” budget decisions, although Branstad does support “Head Start” which is a federally-funded preschool program. “I support Head Start. I support private preschool programs. I support financial aid for families with need,” Branstad says. “But I don’t think the public schools ought to have to take over the education of all three- and four-year-olds.”
Branstad. who is seeking a fifth term as governor, says there have been “big layoffs” in public schools because the state is trying to do too much, and that includes trying to expand enrollment in public preschools. “What we do we need to do well. We need to focus on the basic,” Branstad says. “We need to provide a good, quality K-12 education and increase the quality and the opportunity for our students instead of trying to do things that we can’t afford to do.”
The three candidates made their comments this weekend during an Iowa Broadcast News Association forum in Cedar Rapids.
According to the national report released Tuesday, Oklahoma is the only state in the country where almost every four-year-old has the opportunity to attend preschool. Thirty-eight states provide some level of state funding for preschool programs while 12 states do not.