The Republican-led Iowa House has approved Governor Branstad’s preschool plan, setting up a showdown with the Democrat-controlled Senate. In January, the House voted to repeal the existing program for four-year-olds which provides ten hours of free classroom time a week in the majority of Iowa school districts.
The bill approved last night replaces it with a scholarship program providing assistance to families earning less than $67,000 a year. Representative Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Clarion, says nothing in life is free.
“If you want your child to go to preschool, fantastic, then help pay for it,” Iverson says. “The people in this country have spoken loudly that most of us are tired of spending someone else’s money and sending the taxpayers the bill.”
Democrats argued the scholarships do nothing for the middle class, people who they say are struggling to afford quality preschool even with two parents working. Representative Nate Willems, a Democrat from Lisbon, predicted some families will drop out, forcing programs to close.
Willems says, “When you turn preschool into a program that is just for the poor kids then you know what? A lot of a poor kids and their families aren’t going to sign up, aren’t going to participate when you create that negative stigma.”
Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, urged Republicans to leave the current program intact for another year so that a study could be conducted to determine how the governor’s plan would impact enrollment.
Winckler says, “It is important that we stop the insanity of playing football with our four-year-old children and their families.”
Republican Iverson countered, saying taxpayers are tired of getting the bill for these programs. “Good intentions are fantastic with somebody else’s money,” Iverson says. “I would say virtually every parent in Iowa can send their child to preschool.”
The bill now goes to the Senate where majority Democrats promise a re-write. Senate Leader Mike Gronstal released a statement saying he did not intend to return to the same type of program Iowa had five years ago when less than 20-percent of four-year-olds attended preschool. Right now, nearly 50-percent are enrolled.