DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate approved incentives to increase enrollment in the state voluntary preschool program to alleviate waiting lists, especially for low-income and minority students who, the floor manager said, have the most to gain from early childhood education.
Senate File 2351 was approved 28-22 with two Republicans — Sens. Rick Bertrand of Sioux City and Mark Segebart of Vail — joining majority Democrats to send the bill to the GOP-controlled House, where leadership has shown little interest.
Although the program could cost the state as much as $127 million over three years, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, estimated $51 million is a more likely cost because some students won’t enroll and others attend other programs, such as Head Start.
It won’t cost the state a cent unless local school districts increase preschool enrollment, he added.
The goal, he said, is to move closer to universal preschool by providing incentives that could ensure that 85 percent of Iowa’s 41,000 kids age 4 are receiving educational training. Some preschools are unable to meet the current demand, and the additional money would help them hire more teachers or expand facilities to accommodate more children.
Some school districts maintain waiting lists, but because the students age out of the program, Quirmbach said they more accurately could be called denial lists.
SF 2351 would expand eligible expenses for private providers, encourage targeted community outreach and offer a $1,200 per pupil funding incentive for each student a school adds to its program over the next three years.
An amendment to waive fees associated with preschool for families with incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty level was approved, but another to provide scholarships in cases where public school programs were not available failed 25-25.