Gov. Branstad doubts future of preschool reform
By James Q. Lynch
Gazette Des Moines Bureau
ELKADER - The protracted stalemate at the Iowa Capitol over the state budget has produced one casualty that has Democrats - and some parents - cheering.
The budget impasse has dragged on so long Republican Gov. Terry Branstad doubts it will be possible to implement his plan for restructuring state-supported voluntary preschool for Iowa 4-year-olds in the 2011-12 school year.
'At this point in time, I think that's unlikely to happen,' Branstad said Tuesday about his plans to implement a need-based scholarship system that would require all parents to pay at least part of the cost of sending their children to preschool. Parents with higher incomes would pick up a larger share of the cost under his plan.
That was greeted with applause at a Branstad town hall meeting in Elkader and at another in Oelwein Tuesday afternoon.
Rep. Nate Willems of Lisbon, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, cheered, too.
'I'm happy to hear that Gov. Branstad seems to be easing his push for replacing the current program with a voucher system,' Willems said.
'I think the longer Gov. Branstad has to be exposed to the preschool system the more likely it is he will see it as beneficial.' It's good news - up to a point - for Lonna Powers, director of the Little Husky Preschool and day Care in Oelwein. She told Branstad and Lt. Gov.
Kim Reynolds the program graduated 48 4-yearolds Friday.
That's because Branstad's budget doesn't provide funding for preschool.
'If no action is taken,' he said, 'I think that there will be no allowable growth and there's going to be no change in preschool. (Schools) will have to do it within the existing budget and that's the problem.' Powers agreed it would be a problem.
'Then it's questionable whether I can hire certified staff and whether families can afford to send their children,' she said.
Although school summer breaks are just beginning, Powers said she can't wait much longer to make plans for next year.
'I can't hire or make up my programs if we don't know whether there will be any money,' she said. With the governor continuing to negotiate a fiscal 2012 budget with Democrats who control the Senate and Republicans who control the House, the preschool situation could change, but at this point, Branstad doubts it. 'That's just a prediction based on what I see in terms of the way things have worked out in the Legislature,' he said.
'The House has passed our preschool proposal, but Senate has refused to take it up.' Willems doubts Democrats will look more favorably on Branstad's plan next year.
'Democrats think it's working well and I don't know what would change to cause us to feel differently,' he said.