A college professor and a retired school administrator touted the long-term value of preschool during a joint presentation to the Iowa Senate’s Education Committee. In December, the top Republican in the senate questioned the value of preschool, citing studies which conclude by fourth grade there’s no difference in the achievement of students who’ve been to preschool and those who haven’t.

Patrick Kremer recently retired after a career in the Marshalltown Community Schools, including a stint as the district’s associate superintendent. “We can pretend not to know what we know,” Kremer said. “But the brain research is clear in showing that investments in the early years offer the greatest opportunity we have to narrow the achievement gap and to reduce drop out rates, to reduce the need for remedial programs and to reduce the prison population.”

Betty Zan is director of the Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education, located at the University of Northern Iowa, also testified today. Zan cited studies which found higher adulthood achievement among former preschool students, including higher rates of home and car ownership compared to those who hadn’t attended preschool.

“I don’t want you to think about preschool as an innoculation, but as a really good boost,” Zan said. Senator Shawn Hammerlinck, a Republican from Davenport, says the value of preschool isn’t at the center of the debate. “The legislature’s starting to come to the realization that $190 million for full, universal preschool is something that’s not in our checkbook right now,” Hammerlinck says.

Governor Branstad has embraced the idea of providing vouchers to low-income parents who can’t afford to send their kids to preschool. Republicans in the Iowa House have proposed ending the state support of four-year-old preschool programs and have included that idea in a budget bill that is scheduled for debate later this afternoon or evening.