Senate Democrats seek more funding for public preschool

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A proposal to increase funding for school districts that expand public preschool for 4-year-olds received preliminary approval in the Iowa Senate Monday.

A Senate subcommittee backed the bill that seeks to expand the Iowa Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program, which was established in 2007. The legislation now moves to the Education Committee in the Democratic-majority Senate. But the bill may face hurdles in the Republican-controlled House, where a similar bill failed to win full legislative approval last year.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, introduced the bill, which would provide extra funding for districts that expand preschool programs. He said students benefit from early education and the state should help more students participate. The funding would be offered for three years and Quirmbach said the price tag for the proposal would depend on the number of new students enrolled.

"All of the research is dramatically clear to the benefits of preschool. It is particularly important for kids from low income backgrounds and racial minorities," Quirmbach said.

Rep. Ron Jorgenson, R-Sioux City, said he had not reviewed the bill but was concerned about the potential cost.

"We're fighting to find additional money for K-12. I can't see where all this additional money for preschool is going to be coming from," he said.

Just over 24,000 4-year-old students are currently participating in Iowa's public preschool program. The program is offered in 320 of the 338 districts in the state. During the previous school year, the state spent $66 million on the program, said Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp.

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