Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for Four-Year-Old Children

Linelle Clark-Brown, National Association of State Boards of Education

Story posted February 9, 2012


  • Over 64% of kindergarten children who attended preschool were considered proficient on DIBELS in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 school years, compared to approximately 52%, 56% and 57% (respectively) of their peers who did not attend preschool, and the impact is greater for children in poverty

The Iowa State Board of Education has long supported quality early childhood education, and in 2007 the legislature created the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for Four-Year-Old Children (SWVPP). The purpose of the program is to provide an opportunity for all 4-year-old children in the state of Iowa to enter school ready to learn by expanding access to research-based preschool curriculum and licensed teaching staff.

Under the program, school districts, along with community partners, submitted grant applications to participate. Those awarded a grant demonstrated collaborative involvement with multiple stakeholders in both the planning and implementation of the preschool program. In the 2010-11 school year, 19,799 4-year-old children participated in the SWVPP throughout this state funding, while an additional 5,000 preschool age children participated in this quality program with support from two other funding sources. This is close to two-thirds of the roughly 39,000 4-year-olds in the state. State funding for SWVPP for the 2010-11 school year was $64 million.

Key Requirements for Local Programs Participating in the SWVPP

  • Licensed teachers. All programs must have early childhood licensed teachers who are responsible for designing and implementing effective learning environments using instructional strategies to enhance children’s learning.
  • A minimum of 10 hours per week of quality preschool instruction. Providers may also provide “wrap around” programming through other federal, state, or local programming (fees may be charged for these services if they are not funded through state or federal sources).
  • Community collaboration. Programs must provide family involvement opportunities such as home visits, family nights, and conferences. The delivery of quality preschool services by the licensed teacher could be provided in the public school setting, or the teacher could collaborate with the community-based early childhood programs, nonpublic, faith-based, nonprofit, or for profit centers to implement teaching strategies that enhance children’s learning and development.
  • High program standards. School districts and partners select and implement at least one of three approved program standards: the Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards, the National Association for the Education of Young Children Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria, or the Head Start Program Performance Standards.
  • Appropriate adult-child ratio of 1 to 10 and a maximum group size of 20.

Positive Impacts of the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program

Districts, families, and community partners report many positive impacts as a result of the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program. These include an increase in:

  • Access to high-quality preschools;
  • Number of licensed teachers with expertise in early childhood education;
  • Quality of programming, curriculum, instruction, and assessment;
  • Collaboration among teaching staff;
  • Collaboration between public schools and community partners to provide quality preschool;
  • Integration of children with disabilities;
  • Family involvement aimed at:
    • Strengthening home-to-school and school-to-home communication;
    • Helping families generalize their child’s skills from school to home;
    • Informing families of community programs/assistance, such as health screenings and other services; and
    • Opportunities for appropriate quality professional development

There has also been an increase in skills development among participating children. Dynamic Indicators for Basic Early Learning Skills (DIBELS) scores from children participating in the SWVPP were compared to children with no preschool experience. The DIBELS assessment measures children’s literacy skills for identifying beginning sounds of words by pointing to the picture of the matching sound.

In 2010-2011, 64 percent of kindergarten children who participated in the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program were proficient as compared to only 57 percent of children who had no preschool experience prior to kindergarten enrollment. In 2006-2007, prior to the SWVPP, only 56 percent of all kindergarten students assessed were proficient. This represents a 7 percent increase in the percentage of children proficient.

The impact of the Statewide V9oluntary Preschool Program is greater for children in poverty (eligible for free or reduced meals). As seen in figure 2, fewer kindergarten students in poverty without a preschool experience were proficient in beginning sounds than students who attended the SWVPP.

What’s Next for the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program?

The Iowa State Board of Education continues to support access to quality preschool programming with the goal of all children entering school ready to learn. The next step is to focus on helping assure that programs are high quality by aligning assessment, curriculum, and instruction. The Iowa Department of Education is working with early childhood consultants in the state’s intermediate units, the Area Education Agencies (AEAs). These AEA early childhood consultants provide professional development and technical assistance to the providers participating in the SWVPP.

For more information, contact:

Penny Milburn
Iowa Department of Education

Copyright (2011) National Association of State Boards of Education. Reposted with permission. For more information on NASBE, visit http://nasbe.org/.