Battle over Preschool Takes Shape in Iowa

By Sean Cavanagh — January 14, 2011 1 min read
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One of most intriguing education policy debates of last year’s campaign season played out in Iowa, where Republican candidate for governor Terry Branstad vowed to do away with then-incumbent Democratic Gov. Chet Culver’s voluntary statewide preschool program, if elected.

Branstad won the race, returning to the office he held for four terms from 1983 to 1999, and Republicans made gains in the legislature. And now efforts to scale back the program appear to be taking shape.

When he was working the stump, Branstad argued that the preschool program created by Culver was too costly. He instead said the state should provide need-based aid to families for preschool—but not for those who were able to afford those services on their own.

Republicans have proposed a measure, dubbed the Taxpayers First Act, that would do away with the preschool program and replace it with vouchers for families wanting to take part. The measure also seeks to cut numerous government programs and return it to taxpayers, presumably through tax cuts, which GOP lawmakers have argued will spark economic growth.

The chances of that proposal, or some version of it, making it into law are unclear. Branstad’s staff didn’t respond to a request for comment. Democrats still control Iowa’s Senate, and legislators from the party have launched a website designed to rally opposition to the measure.

Democrats argue that preschool program is important to the state economically, because makes it easier for both parents in a household to work. Republicans seem to want a much more targeted, and pared-down approach.

In the months ahead, we’ll see who carries the day.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.