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Local parents, preschools worry about potential cuts

BY KATIE HEINE | JANUARY 20, 2011 7:10 AM

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Four-year-old Jaylen Perteit was making a spinner out of construction paper when his mother, Bronis Perteit, came to pick him up at Wood Elementary.

“Mommy, can I take off my coat and go play?” the preschool student pleaded.

Bronis Perteit couldn’t say no.

Wood Preschool, an affiliate of the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, relies on state funds to provide 4-year-olds with the necessary skills to enter kindergarten successfully. But days could be numbered for this and other similar programs in the state as lawmakers debate a bill that would deal a blow to early childhood education in Iowa.

In an effort to cut back on state spending, House Republicans have proposed a budget that includes eliminating universal preschool for 4-year-old children. Instead, the state would provide vouchers for low-income families; those who don’t qualify would pay for the schooling themselves.

Former Gov. Chet Culver established the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for Four-Year-Old Children in 2007, one of his cherished pieces of legislation during his tenure. The program provides free preschool to all 4-year-olds.

On Wednesday, the House struck down an amendment to the budget bill that would have protected the free program. Republicans hope that the budget bill sent to the Senate will include the shift from the free program to vouchers.

Despite protests from some concerned parents, House Republicans see universal preschool as an easy area from which to cut due to its recent creation.

“In order to balance the budget, everyone has to make a sacrifice,” said Rep. Greg Forristall, R- Macedonia. “This is the cost.”

But that’s left some local preschool providers worried.

“We’re just sort of playing the waiting game, and then we’ll plan accordingly,” said Jenna Townsend, lead teacher at Wood Preschool, 1930 Lakeside Drive.

Brian Loring, the organization’s director, said cuts could be detrimental to the future.

“It’s critical for kids to get on the proper trajectory,” Loring said. “Our goal is to get children ready for the classroom experience.”

The proposed use of vouchers is creating concern among educators that classrooms will become divided between those who can afford private preschool and those who can’t.

Eliminating the current program would decrease the level of integration, said LauraBelle Sherman-Proehl, early childhood services bureau chief at the Iowa Department of Education.

“Children are able to aspire to a higher level of learning when integrated,” she said.

And Steve Barnet, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said a quality preschool environment is key for cognitive, social, and emotional development as well.

Perteit said Wednesday afternoon as she picked Jaylen up from Wood Preschool that early childhood education has drastically shaped her only son’s socialization skills.

“He’s learning to share and interact with other kids,” she said. “Every child should have the same opportunity.”


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