The top Democrat in the Iowa Senate is promising a tough fight over state support of preschool for four-year-olds. House Republicans this week voted to eliminate state funding for preschool programs in 326 school districts. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs.

“We will put up a significant battle in the Senate to keep early childhood education in the state of Iowa,” Gronstal says. Governor Branstad favors eliminating free preschool for all in favor of subsidies for lower income Iowa parents who don’t qualify for the federal preschool program called HeadStart. But Gronstal says the budget bill Republicans in the House approved late Wednesday night does not include those subsidies.

“I don’t think a single Iowan really came along and said, ‘Hey, it’s time to make sure our kids don’t get access to early childhood education and there’s nothing in that bill that provides for that,” Gronstal says. Gronstal and other Democrats argue subsidies or “vouchers” for preschool aren’t enough, as parents may not be able to find a quality preschool once school districts stop overseeing the program for four-year-olds.

Republicans like Shawn Hammerlinck of Davenport say Iowa parents who can afford to pay the tuition for preschool should pay it. “In an ideal world, it would wonderful to be able to fund all programs at all times so that everybody would receive everything they wanted,” Hammerlinck says.

“The amount of tax revenue that would take would, essentially, bankrupt the state.” Hammerlinck questions some of the assertions of preschool supporters who cite research suggesting adults who went to preschool have higher rates of home and car ownership. Hammerlinck says there are many other determining factors, like the quality of the teachers that adult had throughout their years in school.

“I believe that what we have is the start of a discussion,” Hammerlinck says. “…This is an ongoing cost and we have to make a rational decision: is this something that we can afford to pay for at this level or do we have to change the way this program is offered?”

Governor Branstad is scheduled to submit his proposed state budget plan to legislators next week, including his plan for the future of state-supported preschool programs.