Key Republicans say it’s too late to significantly alter the state-paid preschool program for four-year-olds who will enter preschool this fall. But Republicans are pressing to reduce the overall level of state support for preschool.
Governor Branstad had suggested a new voucher system for low-income parents, requiring all other parents to pay preschool tuition out of their own pockets. With legislators still struggling to hammer out an overall state spending plan, Branstad says his voucher program for preschool is "unlikely" to be approved.
"This year we’re probably not going to get that done," Branstad says.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, agrees.
"It’s too late to implement it," Paulsen says.
However, Republicans in the legislature may seek to reduce the per-pupil allotment school districts receive for every four-year-old enrolled in the state-financed program. That figure today is about $3600 for each four-year-old.
"But clearly the program can be run for much less than that now," Paulsen says.
According to Paulsen, Republicans favor a figure that’s less closer to $2500 worth of state spending a year for each four-year-old enrolled in preschool.
"I think it is a gain for Iowans if we are able to address that funding," Paulsen says.
Paulsen says he’s heard from superintendents who tell him they don’t need as much state support as they’re getting to run a preschool program since the school day is shorter for a four-year-old compared to students in other grades. Branstad agrees.
"It’s not as expensive, obviously, to provide preschool as some other things," Branstad says. "And there’s a lot of, frankly, private providers who are doing it for a lot less cost."
The governor says he hopes to focus on preschool at this summer’s summit on education. He’d like to see some way of measuring how well preschool programs are preparing students for kindergarten.