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Fight over future of preschool takes center stage at Statehouse

The first bill in the Iowa House this session would eliminate our state’s successful public-private preschool partnership, an effort that has given thousands of Iowa kids a great start in the classroom.|(From Senator Amanda Ragan)

The first bill in the Iowa House this session would eliminate our state’s successful public-private preschool partnership, an effort that has given thousands of Iowa kids a great start in the classroom. Closing preschools would increase the financial burdens on working families struggling in today’s tough economy.

Before Iowa’s statewide preschool program was started, only 19 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children in Iowa had access to a quality preschool education. Today, 60 percent of our kids are able to attend preschool, preparing them for a brighter future.
On Tuesday night, the House of Representatives held a 3∏-hour public hearing where parents, teachers and early childhood advocates argued that giving our kids the best start possible makes sense and should be continued. On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee invited experts to present key research on preschool and share their experiences.

Patrick Kremer, a former teacher and superintendent, works as a case manager for troubled youth in Marshalltown. He told senators that quality early learning helps set young people on the right path to adulthood.

Dr. Betty Zan, director of the Regents’ Early Childhood Institute, shared that quality preschool produces some of the best returns from the investments we make in our children and future workforce. Research has found that children in quality learning environments are less likely to drop out of school, less likely to repeat a grade, less likely to need special education, and less likely to get into trouble with the law.

Some think we should target quality preschool to only the neediest children. In contrast, the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University reports that the “most practical and cost efficient way” of getting the best return on investment in our children may be by providing access to preschool for all children.

Many hard-working Iowa families simply can’t afford high-quality preschool programs for their children. Even if every eligible child participated in programs targeted to them, a large group of kids would still lack access. These are children from families whose incomes are just above the eligibility requirements. For families that can afford it, many are not able to find high-quality programs in their neighborhoods or smaller communities.

Iowa’s statewide preschool program has helped eliminate those barriers for thousands of Iowa families. What I’ve heard in recent weeksófrom experts and constituents alikeótells me we shouldn’t leave any Iowa children out when it comes to high-quality preschool and the chance for a brighter future.

Additional information
This is a legislative column by Senator Amanda Ragan, representing Mitchell and Floyd counties and parts of Cerro Gordo and Howard counties. For newsletters, photos and further information, go to .

To contact Senator Ragan during the week, call the Senate Switchboard at 515-281-3371. Otherwise she can be reached at home at 641-424-0874. E-mail her at

Senator Ragan is an Assistant Senate Majority Leader, chair of the Human Resources Committee and vice-chair of the Health & Human Services Budget Subcommittee. She also serves on the Appropriations, Rules & Administration, Natural Resources & Environment, and Veterans Affairs committees.

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