State Board of Education members asked Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday to find a way to keep the state’s universal preschool program intact, calling it an investment in the future with support across the state.
But the governor said free preschool, estimated to cost $70 million statewide this year, is a program the state simply can’t afford.
Branstad attended the state board’s Thursday meeting to share his thoughts on the board’s priorities for the coming year. In most cases, the board and the governor found themselves on the same page. These included moving the state toward competency-based evaluations for students, expanding online learning and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.
Then the talk turned to preschool.
Max Phillips, a board member from Woodward, said studies have shown that for every $1 invested in preschool, the state gets a $17 benefit. That’s a ratio, Phillips said, that any CEO would love to see. He added that a “wide coalition of educators and business leaders” wants the state to keep the current program.
“Our point to you is this is a huge priority,” Phillips said.
The governor’s pay-to-participate preschool proposal provides a sliding scale for tuition.
In it, households that earn less than 300 percent of the poverty rate would qualify for the scholarship, while paying a monthly contribution that would range from $3 up to $133 depending on their yearly income and number of children. Parents would choose whether to enroll their child in a public or private preschool program.
“My feeling is this,” Branstad said. “Many families with means have been providing for preschool for their children for a long time and are very willing to do that … while many lower-income families oftentimes couldn’t do it. That’s why we put together this plan, which is based on the financial needs of the family.”