The House Education Committee worked late into the evening Monday on the bill that scraps the state’s current preschool program for four- year-olds, and creates a scholarship program to replace it. The change, which is a priority of Governor Branstad, would give families earning less than $67,000 a year assistance on a sliding scale.
Representative Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, says the legislation is an attempt to put the state’s fiscal house back in order. He says Iowa’s growing preschool budget has resulted in a shrinking budget for K-12 schools. “If your house is missing the back wall you don’t put a fancy new entryway on the front,” Forristall says.
Forristall says Republicans want to make sure Iowans earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year aren’t qualifying for free preschool.
“With the state facing a $700-million gap between spending and revenues, the current preschool program is on a rising cost course that is not sustainable,” Forristall says.
Forristall says spending less than what the governor recommended would likely mean preschool scholarships would be capped at $2,300 rather than $3,000. Representative Nate Willems, a Democrat from Lisbon wanted to know why the measure spends ten million dollars less than the $43-million the governor recommended.
“To completely undo a very successful program it just feels like we’re doing this on the fly,” Willems says. Willems says it’s disingenuous for house Republicans to complain about the budget gap while also proposing a $700 million dollar income tax cut.
“We are literally seeing ten or fifteen times as much money in tax cuts being passed as dollars were talking about here to fund preschool. So no it’s not believable,” Willems says. The bill now goes to the full house and then on to the Senate where Democratic control means passage is unlikely.