Iowa City Community School District requests expanded preschool program

Iowa City Community School District representatives outlined a proposal for expanding their preschool services with funding from the county during the Board of Supervisors Wednesday work session.


Madyson Gomez

ICCSD school board address the Board of Supervisors during a Board of Supervisors meeting held in the Johnson county Administration Building in Iowa City on Feb. 8, 2023. Updates were made about preschool expansion in Johnson country as well as budgets on the Dr. Lulu Marie Johnson Exhibit Project being done by the university.

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District is requesting Johnson County help fund a preschool expansion program. 

The county, under the school district’s proposal, would be responsible for between $8,300 and $21,147 of the funding, depending on which estimate is used. The district proposed that funds could be raised by raising taxes, including the use of local-option sales tax (LOST).

Amy Kortemeyer, deputy superintendent for ICCSD, said the goal is to serve as many children with high-quality childcare while managing costs in a presentation during the Johnson County Board of Supervisors work session meeting Wednesday.

This would involve having all 21 elementary schools in the district offer both morning and afternoon preschool sessions and wrap care.

Wrap care is for children who have experienced “serious mental health or behavioral challenges,” according to the National Wraparound Initiative from Portland State University.

For these sessions, Iowa City Community School District would provide transportation for eligible children and food. In addition, children eligible for free or reduced lunches (FRL) would also qualify for a reduced or free rate for transportation, lunch, and wrap care.

Lisa Williams, the Iowa City Community School District School Board of Directors vice president, said the goal is to provide services for roughly 840 children who are eligible for preschool. 

She added there are over 1000 students in total, but the remaining 200 would be serviced by private schools or programs. 

According to the presentation slides, 475 children are currently being served by the school district, with an additional 114 attending an Iowa City Community School District partner or affiliate program.

The estimated cost for the program is between $4,449,973 to $​​5,514,665, according to the slides.

Funding the proposal would require revenue streams from the county and the other local municipalities. A slide detailed the three ways the cost could be estimated: enrollment rate, average percentage enrollment, and cost by student.

The same slide also showed the number of each estimate for each municipality. For example, Iowa City would pay $983,313 using enrollment rate, $979,400 for average percentage enrollment, and $964,381 for cost by student.

In Johnson County’s case, it would only contribute for unincorporated residents. As a result, its numbers are lower: $21,147 for enrollment, $8,300 for average percentage enrollment, and $19,762 for cost by student.

RELATED: Iowa City schools consider funding options for new preschool programs

ICCSD said to find the money, the county could slightly raise taxes, or use a different method.

Supervisor V Fixmer-Oraiz supported the program expansion, citing their experience as a parent with preschool-aged children, and the general importance of such programs.

Rod Sullivan, Johnson County vice chair, also voiced his support, saying research shows that preschool programs are an important step in preventing people from becoming criminals later in life.

“I think this is as about progressive an investment as you could possibly make. Again, I know all the causation stuff you can’t prove anything with that, but statistics are awfully awfully good for providing four-year-old preschool versus not providing four-year-old preschool,” he said. “It seems like as positive an investment in the future as a government could possibly make. And so this would, I think, be a super rare occasion where I would vote for this simply because of that.”

Despite his support, Sullivan said many residents in rural Johnson County could still vote no, something they have done in the past with other ballot proposals. He asked what the school district would do if any municipality did vote no.

In response, Williams said those who did vote no would simply not get the services.

“If some of the places don’t pass it because what the funding is being used for is transportation for our FRL kids and wrap for the FRL kids, we just won’t be able to offer the benefits to children living in those jurisdictions,” Williams said.

She said preschool services would still be offered, and there would be a tuition option alternative. The lack of funding in those areas would only affect FRL benefits.

“We just need the money. We’re not necessarily wed to how we get the money,” Williams said.

Lisa Green-Douglass, Johnson County chair, voiced concerns over parts of the plan, saying it was not the county’s responsibility to convince residents or other entities to support the plan.

“It’s not our purview,” Green-Douglass said.

She said the Iowa City Community School District proposal would see the county adopt a county-wide LOST, of which 10 percent would go towards the program. 

Green-Douglass, along with some of the other supervisors, spoke on her concern that changes from the legislature would make this option difficult.

There were also concerns over how to put the proposal on the ballot. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said when it would appear on the ballot depends on Iowa law and the supervisors. If the county calls for a vote, it could appear on the ballot this year.

No actions were taken during the meeting, although supervisors said it would be discussed further. The school district will meet with other entities, including the City of Iowa City, later this month.