A public hearing at the statehouse last night drew strong support for the state’s universal preschool program. Educators from across Iowa lined up to urge lawmakers to save the ten hours a week of free classroom time for more than 20,000 four year olds.
There were also dozens of speakers who voiced concerns about excessive spending. The hearing stretched more than three hours as legislators allowed everyone a chance to speak. The state’s voluntary preschool program is one of many items on the chopping block in a bill that trims 500-million dollars in state spending over the next three years.
Winterset Kindergarten teacher Sue Williams says without state support, a community of that size can’t afford licensed teachers for preschool for 141 four year olds. “When children attend kindergarten after attending quality preschool they hit the ground running. They have had experience as students with such basic things as lining up, taking turns and getting along with others.”
Williams says she’s also seen an improvement in vocabulary, literacy, and math skills. But Bruce Bibb of Fort Dodge told lawmakers he put his own four children through preschool and believes most others should do the same.
“There are at least four different programs in the state of Iowa that support people who cannot afford preschool and I support those programs. But what I’m saying is let people who are capable paying for preschool like myself pay for their own preschool.” Bibb says the budget cutting bill is a step in the right direction. House Republicans garnered plenty of support for their plan from farmers, small business owners and taxpayer rights organizations. Economic Development and transit officials warned against pulling funding for high speed rail projects. John Tenikat warned lawmakers they would regret their decision if gas prices rise.
“We have an addiction to convenience. We have the illusion of cheap gasoline forever. Remember Hurricane Katrina. Remember the four dollar a gallon gasoline. So much for that illusion.” Other opponents argued the spending cuts put corporations before people because Republican Governor Terry Branstad has promised to reduce the taxes for businesses. But Heather Stancil of Earlham says Iowans want lower taxes and new jobs.
“I’ve never been given a job by a poor man. In fact I’m employed by a rich man. So I really don’t want to hear any more about corporations being the bad guy. They’re the ones who employee me, they pay my health insurance, and they give me paycheck every week.”
Stancil says it’s clear legislators can’t make everyone happy so urged them to make the difficult choice to reduce spending. House File 45 is scheduled for debate by the full House later today.