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Iowa legislators discuss universal preschool

BY KEVIN SVEC | FEBRUARY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa legislators seek to solve big issues through Iowa’s 4-year-olds.

State legislators met Feb. 22 in North Liberty at a forum held by the Johnson County League of Women Voters to discuss child education.

Senators and representatives agreed youth in the Unites States will not be able to compete academically with other countries such as China and Korea unless all children start earlier.

To address the issue, senators have proposed bill to make sure preschool is available for all 4-year-olds.

This universal preschool would be a state-provided, free pre-kindergarten school for all 4-year-olds in the state. Attendance in the pre-kindergarten classes would be voluntary.

According to a 2013 report by the state Department of Education, students who attend preschool are less likely to have intensive intervention upon kindergarten, repeat grades, get into trouble with the law, require extra help, or drop out.

“Discussion should be about early childhood learning,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. “We should be able to compete academically and be able to deal with problems before they are problems.”

Legislators have raised funding concerns. The cost of universal preschool could potentially take away funding for K-12 funding, and some lawmakers believe the state shouldn’t have to pay for preschool for families who can afford it.

“Universal preschool gives kids an advantage, more so for the kids in poverty,” said Sen. Nancy Boettger, R-Harlan.

The goal of this program is to ensure every child at a young age starts out in the same boat regardless of family income or English proficiency.

“Taking away money from education is crippling our future,” said Melva Hughes, a member of the Johnson County Empowerment Board. “Education is what the world runs on.”

Mascher said starting children in the education system at an earlier age could lower crime rates and lead to more success later in life.

“If we invested some of that money into early childhood development and placed children in quality, early education, they would be less likely to end up in prison and be more likely to graduate high school, get a good paying job, get married, and be a successful member of society,” she said.

Amy Nielson, a mother of three from North Liberty, said this legislation could balance educational opportunities in the state.

“Universal preschool for 4-year olds is a small issue, but a giant solution to an even bigger problem,” Nielson said. “This preschool program would work as a great equalizer and would help fill the poverty gap.”


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