Bill would let some 5-year-olds enroll in preschool programs

    (Photo by Johner Images/Getty)

    A bill moving through Iowa’s Senate would create a pilot program allowing some 5-year-olds to enroll in the state’s preschool programs.

    Under current law, only children who turn 4 on or before Sept. 15 may enroll in preschool during that year. House File 318 would allow parents to choose whether to enroll 5-year-olds in preschool. It would change the cut-off window to include children who turn 5 between March 15 and Sept. 15. If passed, the change would last for only three years, beginning July 2022.

    Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said in a subcommittee Thursday that she had seen enrollment disparities first-hand with her eldest son, who has a September birthday.

    “He started kindergarten and turned 6, and there were 4-year-olds starting kindergarten with him,” she said. “That’s a huge gap at that age.”

    Lobbyists for Iowa education groups commended the measure. Margaret Buckton, lobbyist for the Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network of Iowa, emphasized the importance of preschool programs. She said allowing some 5-year-olds to spend an extra year in preschool could create better students down the line.

    “That gives us that time to get that student to the level of learning that they need to be to be successful in school,” Buckton said.

    The subcommittee voted unanimously to move the legislation. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, questioned how the state planned to fund an expanded preschool program in future years but voted in favor.

    The House passed the bill unanimously March 8. The Senate Education Committee needs to approve House File 318 before next Friday for the bill to remain eligible for further consideration.

    Katie Akin
    Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.