‘We can’t make it spread anymore:’ Iowa preschool programs fight for federal funding | #students | #parents



The state’s preschool budget is based on the number of students enrolled the prior year. When the pandemic hit, enrollment dropped by roughly 4,000 students as more parents kept their preschool students home. But when those students disappeared, so did a large amount of funding for the following year.”The way the funding formula works…you’re looking at about $3,600 per preschool student and so if you’re short 2,000 of those in this current school year, the system is missing about $7.2 million,” Margaret Buckton, partner with Iowa School Finance Information Services, said. After lots of conversations and promises from lawmakers last year, Buckton said there was an understanding that there was a financial fix in place. Preschool programs across the state kept staff on and enrolled more students, but the government funding they were counting on never came.”There are funds that went to the governor specifically for her to dedicate to particular costs,” Buckton said. “Here we are in January, more than halfway through the school year, and we still don’t have any notice that those federal funds will be directed toward this purpose.”Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office said there is a funding option in place. In a statement to KCCI, her office wrote, “funds can be accessed if districts make an application to the School Budget Review Committee (SBRC) for Modified Supplemental Amount (MSA) in the amount necessary to cover the per pupil costs for the additional enrollment. The Iowa Department of Education (Department) will then allocate the requested and approved amount to the district to offset the increased costs of the preschool program for the 2021-2022 school year.” But Margaret Buckton says the SBRC can only grant money to schools if they receive funds from the governor’s office. “It’s still unclear if she intends to provide the emergency relief funds to the SBRC to reimburse schools,” Buckton said.Kelly Donnelly, director of Grace Preschool, said she has been fighting for funding for the last year. “I left a classroom during nap time to speak at a Senate committee hearing on this and I remember saying at that moment, ‘We need money yesterday, not a year from now.’ We’re not seeing the help that we thought we would get.”She said she believes that the lawmakers and governor support Iowa preschool programs and want to invest in early education, but that somewhere along in the process “it just got stalled.” “We’re still calling the governor’s office and calling our legislators saying ‘Where’s the money?’ I hate it. I hate to be a debt collector, but it feels like that,” Donnelly said. She said she’s getting emails and phone calls from schools that are closing child care centers and from parents who are desperate to get back to work but can’t find anywhere to send their kids. “I joke around that my budget’s written in crayon these days because you’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to hold on,” Donnelly said. “We’re at that point where we can’t make it spread anymore. We’re trying to keep our doors open. If there ever was an emergency, I would say it’s right now.”

The state’s preschool budget is based on the number of students enrolled the prior year. When the pandemic hit, enrollment dropped by roughly 4,000 students as more parents kept their preschool students home. But when those students disappeared, so did a large amount of funding for the following year.

“The way the funding formula works…you’re looking at about $3,600 per preschool student and so if you’re short 2,000 of those [students] in this current school year, the system is missing about $7.2 million,” Margaret Buckton, partner with Iowa School Finance Information Services, said.

After lots of conversations and promises from lawmakers last year, Buckton said there was an understanding that there was a financial fix in place. Preschool programs across the state kept staff on and enrolled more students, but the government funding they were counting on never came.

“There are funds that went to the governor specifically for her to dedicate to particular costs,” Buckton said. “Here we are in January, more than halfway through the school year, and we still don’t have any notice that those federal funds will be directed toward this purpose.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office said there is a funding option in place. In a statement to KCCI, her office wrote, “funds can be accessed if districts make an application to the School Budget Review Committee (SBRC) for Modified Supplemental Amount (MSA) in the amount necessary to cover the per pupil costs for the additional enrollment. The Iowa Department of Education (Department) will then allocate the requested and approved amount to the district to offset the increased costs of the preschool program for the 2021-2022 school year.”

But Margaret Buckton says the SBRC can only grant money to schools if they receive funds from the governor’s office.

“It’s still unclear if she intends to provide the emergency relief funds to the SBRC to reimburse schools,” Buckton said.

Kelly Donnelly, director of Grace Preschool, said she has been fighting for funding for the last year.

“I left a classroom during nap time to speak at a Senate committee hearing on this and I remember saying at that moment, ‘We need money yesterday, not a year from now.’ We’re not seeing the help that we thought we would get.”

She said she believes that the lawmakers and governor support Iowa preschool programs and want to invest in early education, but that somewhere along in the process “it just got stalled.”

“We’re still calling the governor’s office and calling our legislators saying ‘Where’s the money?’ I hate it. I hate to be a debt collector, but it feels like that,” Donnelly said.

She said she’s getting emails and phone calls from schools that are closing child care centers and from parents who are desperate to get back to work but can’t find anywhere to send their kids.

“I joke around that my budget’s written in crayon these days because you’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to hold on,” Donnelly said. “We’re at that point where we can’t make it spread anymore. We’re trying to keep our doors open. If there ever was an emergency, I would say it’s right now.”

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