DES MOINES — Two educators Wednesday touted the virtues of quality early-childhood education in getting and keeping kids on the right achievement track.
But some Senate Education Committee members remained unconvinced the state can afford to provide universal preschool to 4-year-olds given other equally worthy but competing needs.
Betty Zan, a college professor who directs the Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, pointed to research findings that associated higher adulthood educational progress and achievement as well as higher rates of home and car ownership among former preschool students. They also had lower incidents of juvenile delinquency and other negative social outcomes.
“This is amazing” she said in extolling quality preschool as a developmental tool. Zan also said preschool has a positive benefit for children from every income level and carries a significant cost-benefit ratio for money invested in educational opportunities for children at an early age.
“I don’t want you to think about preschool as an inoculation but as a really good boost,” Zan said.
Another witness, Patrick Kremer, a retired educator who works as a case manager for Youth and Shelter Services in Marshall County, said the majority of a child’s emotional and educational “brain wiring” occurs in the early, formative years and getting a good start is critical to virtually every endeavor.
“You’ll never hear anyone say that less school is better,” said Kremer, who described preschool as a fiscally prudent investment that pays dividends and is socially responsible. “We’re on the right track and I encourage you to make the hard choices to continue on the path of early childhood education.”
Committee chairman Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said Wednesday’s presentation was in part in response to pre-session statements made by top legislative Republicans that questioned the value of preschool given that student achievement tend to converge in later grades.
He added that he finds it “troublesome” that Gov. Terry Branstad — who has embraced a “means tested” concept of providing vouchers to low-income parents who cannot afford to send their kids to preschool — and some legislative Republicans want to make Iowa’s preschool program “an income segregated system” or do away with it altogether.
“From the discussion today, I think that there is very little doubt that this is an extremely valuable program that has a lot of potential for improving the educational outcomes and a host of other social variables,” Quirmbach said.
Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, said “it would be irrational to say there is absolutely no benefit to preschool education,” but he noted that the debate centers whether the state can afford to continue universal access for 4-year-olds given current budget challenges.
“The Legislature’s starting to come to the realization that $190 million for full, universal preschool is something that’s not in our checkbook right now,” he said.
“In an ideal world it would be wonderful to be able to fund all programs at all times so everybody received what they wanted. However, the amount of tax revenue that that would take would essentially bankrupt the state,” Hamerlinck noted.