Teachers urge lawmakers to keep preschool funding
By JOSH NELSON
CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls Schools staff urged area lawmakers Saturday to protect education, especially preschool, as they continue their steady march toward a budget for next fiscal year.
Several teachers and staff members in the district’s early childhood education program walked Democratic Reps. Deborah Berry of Waterloo, Anesa Kajtazovic of Waterloo and Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls through their program and urged them to maintain $70 million for preschool.
“We’re kind of sitting on pins and needles right now,” said Jerry Brown, the district’s preschool director.
Education remains one of the biggest areas of disagreement this session as members of the GOP-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate try to strike a budget agreement.
One area on which Democrats in both chambers vowed to hold steady was maintaining funding for statewide preschool programs, like the one discussed Saturday. Statehouse Republicans and Gov. Terry Branstad argued the program is too expensive and should be replaced with a new approach.
But Democrats said the program is working. “I think that it’s pretty obvious the investment we’re making here is a benefit,” Kressig said. Berry echoed that sentiment, arguing that cutting education would hurt families in the state. “It’s about priorities,” she said. “Education is a true priority.”
A plan backed by Branstad to switch to a means-tested scholarship approach for families died earlier this year, but funding for the current program could also disappear in the budget. Kressig and other representatives said such a plan would end up adding burdens to both families and school staff, who will have to determine what to charge for preschool.
Cedar Falls Superintendent David Stoakes said such a responsibility would fall to his business staff. “It’s going to cost us more to process the families,” Stoakes said.
Some parents of kids in the preschool also said they were concerned about how cuts to preschool would affect their children. Margo Kreger of Cedar Falls said her son Joshua, 6, had a speech problem that kept him from learning well in unstructured environments and in other preschools. But he can now read well after attending Cedar Falls’ Southdale Elementary and enjoys classes. “If you set up a kid to hate school from the beginning, it’s hard to overcome,” Kreger said.
Kressig said he expected a compromise to be met. The traditional shutdown for the session is April 29, when lawmakers’ daily expense money runs out. “I think the compromise process is still viable in Iowa,” Kressig said.