DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A debate is shaping up over the benefits of Iowa's state-funded voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds with Republicans questioning its value and Democrats saying it's critical.
The Des Moines Register said legislative leaders took different sides on Wednesday during a legislative forum sponsored by IowaPolitics.com.
"It's very, very questionable where there is any benefit," said Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, a Republican.
He said the state should cut spending for the program and use the remaining money to give parents a choice between public and private preschools.
Democrats control the Senate, and Senate President Jack Kibbie says Democrats will protect the program.
"I think it's a great program and I don't see us making many changes there," he said.
Republican Rep. Linda Upmeyer, who will be the majority leader in the House, also criticized the subsidized program, saying the state is struggling to afford it when it's likely not worth it.
"The research shows that by about second or third, fourth grade, you cannot tell the difference between a child that has preschool and a child that does not," she said.
Upmeyer said arguably, low-income children get the biggest benefit from preschool, but those children were already being served through other early childhood education programs before the state-funded program was created.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who will lead the Democratic minority in the House, said children who start early with a good education with certified teachers are better off later in life.
"I thought that was pretty well settled around the country," he said.
State education department officials have said the purpose of the program is to increase the number of Iowa children participating in quality preschool.
A fact sheet on the Iowa Department of Education's website says children in quality learning environments were "less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, need special attention, or get into future trouble with the law than similar children who did not have such exposure."
The next session of the Iowa Legislature begins in January.