Governor-elect Branstad says he’s willing to continue some state support for preschool, through a “voucher” system.

“Means testing is what we’re looking at and we have a group that’s looking at that right now,” Branstad says.

A system which evaluates which parents have the “means” or a high enough income to send their kids to preschool could be fashioned after the system which judges which students qualify for free or reduce-priced lunches at school. However, key Republican legislators have begun to question the value of preschool altogether, citing studies which conclude that by second or third grade the performance of most students who went to preschool is no different from those who didn’t.

House Republicans intend to try to eliminate state support of preschool programs throughout the state and start a “voucher” system for the neediest students. Branstad says parents who can afford to send their kids to preschool won’t get a voucher.

“It needs to be means tested so that people that have the financial need get the support they need and others would pay on a sliding scale,” Branstad says. 

According to Branstad’s staff, 87 percent of Iowa schools currently offer “universal” preschool to all four-year-olds in the district. Branstad says it costs far less to educate a preschooler than a high schooler, and that needs to be part of the calculation for the new vouchers.

“We want to really go in and do a very thorough anyalsis of what’s needed and provide the resources that are needed to provide the help to those children that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to get a preschool opportunity,” Branstad says.

The push to expand Iowa’s Kindergarten-through-12th grade system to include preschool was started at the beginning of the century, during former Governor Tom Vilsack’s administration. The Iowa Business Council urged the move, saying in the decades to come it would help Iowa businesses find prospective employees who were better able to compete with workers in other countries, like China, who have many more years of formal education.