Government Run Preschool Isn’t the Only Answer

Governor Culver wants Iowans to believe that $100 million for about 10 hours of instruction a week is a bargain for government run preschool.

Here is what’s being left out the preschool discussion:

  1. A glossy handout talks about $64 million cost in FY11. Little attention is being paid to the nearly $100 million final price tag as estimated by Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
  2. Culver’s preschool law allows school districts to use K-12 property tax levies to also fund preschool so the cost may be much higher than $100 million.
  3. Culver’s preschool law is written such that any across the board cut means taxpayers could be called on to fund the lost state dollars.
  4. Culver’s preschool law doesn’t let private preschools lead the way. The only way local private preschools can access the $100 million is to be government run. The private preschool must meet state accreditation standards and can only use school district-employed teachers.
  5. Culver’s preschool isn’t “free” for parents. The $100 million means Iowa school districts get $3,500 per 4 –year old. That pays for the accreditation and the state law minimum of 10 hours of instruction each week. Parents still pay for the rest of the day.
  6. Democrats reversed themselves on a $5 million plan to give Iowa businesses a matching grant if the business sponsored an on-site preschool or day care. The money went to fund more government run preschool.

Culver’s preschool isn’t “free” for parents.

Long before Culver took office House Republicans championed preschool in a bipartisan manner focused on parent choice, not government directives.

In 2005 and 2006 House Republicans and an evenly split Senate invested in a broad range of iowa’s already successful early childhood programs with the goal of improving choice, quality and access. This effort was designed to leave more money in parents’ pocketbooks with less government intervention.

House Republicans increased preschool tuition funding and eligibility for child care tax credit so parents kept the ability to decide whether their four-year old went to a public or private preschool.

House Republicans expanded parent education that focused on local decision making, not government dictates. And finally, House Republicans funded quality professional development for preschool providers and expanded quality improvement grants for local providers.

Bottom line, House Republicans offered a variety of quality preschool options for about one-third the cost.

Quality preschool is essential to Iowa’s educational and economic development success. But spending $100 million plus may not be the best bargain out there.