Senate Democrats intend to push for more state spending on preschool programs, but Republicans are expressing concerns about the idea. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says far too many Iowa four-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool.
“Some districts describe this as they have a waiting list,” Gronstal says. “It’s not a waiting list, it’s an exclusion list because the next year you’re five (and start kindergarten).”
Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says there are “thousands” of four-year-olds who aren’t in preschool today, but would be if there was an opening in the state-funded programs run by Iowa school districts.
“It has proven itself to be an incredibly successful program in closing that achievement gap, especially among children who are right now living in families that are having a very difficult time just meeting their basic needs,” Jochum said.
The legislature’s top Republicans says he “does not anticipate” agreeing to spend more taxpayer dollars on preschool. In 2007, during Democratic Governor Chet Culver’s term in office, the state began sending Iowa public schools the money to finance voluntary preschool programs. When Republican Governor Terry Branstad took over in 2011, he tried to turn it into a voucher program just for low-income preschool parents, but Democrats objected. Democrats would ultimately like to have mandatory preschool for all four-year-olds, although they’re not intending to push for that this year. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says it’s not an issue Republicans are considering.
“To the best of my knowledge, they’re the only ones talking about it,” Paulsen says. “…Nobody’s approached me on it.”
Under current law, state-funded preschool programs are to offer a minimum of 10-hours of instruction per week. Officials estimate about two-thirds of the four-year-olds in Iowa are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs.