Governor Culver and his wife are hosting a forum at a Des Moines school this morning to tout state-financing for preschool. Culver, a Democrat, promises to boost state funding for preschool if he’s reelected, but his Republican challenger, Terry Branstad, says the state can’t afford to pay for preschool for all four-year-olds. And some private childcare providers complain the state is now in direct competition with their businesses.

Cindy Goodrich runs the Faith Promise Preschool in Elkhart and, for the first time in more than 20 years, she has openings for more kids.

“Taxpayer money is actually taking money away from private business here and it’s really frustrating when you’ve run a successful business for, you know, 30 years to have the government now be your biggest competition,” she says. “And they’re giving something away, using your money to do it.” The Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research suggests that kind of competition between public and private programs can be healthy.

Ellen Frede says state-funded preschool can raise the bar for everyone and reach kids who otherwise may have gone without. “It’s not the job of the state to ensure that the childcare centers say in business. I mean this is about the quality of education for young children,” Frede says. “And that’s what the state needs to be concerned about.” But Tarrah Widaman (TAIR-uh WIHD-ah-man), the lead teacher for four-year-olds at Ankeny Christian Child Care, says the state-funded preschool programs are undermining private preschools.

“Parents and families that we’ve had in the past have now decided, ‘Oh, you know, this must be better (because) state government’s putting money towards it,” she says. “…They may not know what we offer versus what they offer.” Branstad says it’s fine for the state to help low-income parents with subsidies so their kids can go to preschool, but Branstad says taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the preschool bills for all four-year-olds in Iowa because many parents can afford to pay. Just over half of the four-year-olds in Iowa are enrolled in the state-funded preschool programs which are in 326 of the state’s school districts. Culver says if elected to a second term, he’ll expand it to the remaining 35 districts.