Calling All Four-Year-Olds: Preschool's For You

Feb 2, 2015

More Iowa four-year-olds could enroll in preschool under a bill in the Iowa Senate. 

Democrats in the Iowa Senate want to sweeten the pot to get more districts to offer preschool programs. Currently about  two-thirds of Iowa four-year-olds  are enrolled in public and private programs.   Ames Democrat Herman Quirmbach’s bill would give districts an extra $12 hundred for each new student they enroll over the next three years.   Quirmbach says the schools could use the money to make room for a four year old classroom, but only if  they reach out to families who don’t know about the program.

“Kids from more disadvantaged backgrounds benefit at least as much,” Quirmbach says, “and yet the folks who come from those disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to enroll.” Currently it’s first come first served for the voluntary program regardless of need.  Governor Branstad says the program should be serving low-income students instead.

Under the bill, if schools enroll six thousand new students, it would cost the state more than $7 million. That would bring participation up to 80 percent statewide.  

A similar bill died in the Republican-controlled House last year.  Governor Branstad says Iowa already spends more than most states on preschool.  Senate Democrats quote surveys showing Iowa at 32nd in the country on preschool spending.

The bill cleared a three-member panel and goes next to the Senate Education Committee.