William Petroski, email@example.com
A proposal to increase participation in Iowa's preschool programs for four-year-olds advanced in a state Senate subcommittee Monday, although its chances of winning final approval from the Iowa Legislature appears doubtful.
Senate Study Bill 1101 would authorize additional state aid to help finance an expansion of preschool programs. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, said about 26,000 of 40,000 Iowa four-year-olds now attend some type of a preschool program. He would like to add about 6,000 children at an estimated cost of about $7.2 million.
A similar bill passed the Democratic-led Senate last session, but was not considered in the House, where Republicans hold a majority. Both chambers have the same leadership this session, and the same result appears likely. However, Quirmbach told reporters Monday he remains optimistic because of growing evidence of the long-term benefits of preschool education.
"Every kid benefits," Quirmbach said, adding that preschool is especially important for children from low-income backgrounds and for racial minorities. These children are less likely to read proficiently at grade level than other children. But research shows they are helped by preschool at least as much as the majority population, he said.
He said the Senate bill would also provide some money for transportation and administrative expenses, including toilet paper.
"You can just imagine a roomful of four year olds and not enough toilet paper and what could go wrong," Quirmbach said.
Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that Iowa already provides more funding for preschools than other states. If preschool is expanded, he said he would like to target the money for families that have critical financial needs. Both Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also said there are many Iowa communities doing great things with public-private partnerships for preschool programs.
Several education lobbyists spoke in support of the Senate study bill at Monday's subcommittee meeting. They included representatives of the Iowa State Education Association and the School Administrators of Iowa.
"You could run this bill through the economic development committee" because of the clear-cut return on investment from preschool programs, said Margaret Buckton, lobbyist for Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network of Iowa.
Children who attend preschool are less likely to drop out of school or be in special education programs, and are less likely to be a teen parent, be arrested for a violent crime, or to never attend college, Buckton said.