Democrats in the Iowa Senate want to boost state support of preschool programs by $5 million in each of the next three years. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, says the state’s voluntary preschool program that was established in 2007 is showing results, as third grade reading scores are dramatically improving among kids who attended state-funded preschool.

“The problem now is we’re not reaching enough kids,” Quirmbach says. “Amongst the various preschool programs, we’re only reaching 65 percent. We’d like to move that up at least as high as 85 percent.”

Schools would be able to use the extra money to hire new teachers, but it also could be used to convert existing space into preschool classrooms or build new preschool classrooms. Some schools are unable to offer preschool to all four-year-olds in the district whose parents apply for a slot.

“We want to make sure that we reach out, in particular, to underserved groups, to get participation from those who need and benefit from preschool the most,” Quirmbach says, “and we want to further the public and private partnerships that have been at the core of this program since its inception.”

The top Republican in the legislature says he’s not been briefed on the proposal. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says he’s “not in a position to say yes or no” to it.

In 2011, Governor Branstad tried to set up a system that would have provided state vouchers to low-income Iowans to pay preschool tuition, but he abandoned the idea after strong opposition from Democrats.