Iowa Preschool Director Shares Challenges Of Teaching During COVID

A flustered, Des Moines-based Grace Preschool Director Kelly Donnelly said she just got all her young students down for a nap before she began pleading with senators on a Tuesday Zoom subcommittee meeting to reconsider legislation that might provide no additional funding for preschools like hers after recent cuts.

Teaching during a pandemic over the past year has been difficult, Donnelly said, and the shortage of any more state assistance would be damaging.

“I am wearing a mask 10-hour days, so I can give teachers breaks. I am a director and I’m back in the classroom helping at naptime because I’m trying to cover for extremely stressed teachers,” Donnelly said.

“Our center will see 75% of a shortage in funding. Many of our lawmakers have shared that there’s a solution coming, but without certainty passed through our legislative body and signed by Governor Reynolds, that lends to a funding gap … My budget is literally written in crayon—actually, it’s not even written, I’ve never had a year when I’ve never had a budget and I’ve been here for ten years and it scares me.”

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The bill, which provides $27.2 million in general funds to schools as a supplement for fiscal year 2021, passed 2-1 by Republican senators through the legislative subcommittee.

As it’s currently written, the legislation widens open enrollment eligibility and expands tax credits for parents whose students attend private schools while districts across the state are experiencing depressed enrollments, among other COVID-19 expenses in schools. It advances a state preschool funding cut of around $7.4 million in February passed through the Republican legislature.

“Since hearing about these deep cuts to Pre-K, I’ve been in contact with many of my great elected representatives to share about the $7 million cuts,” Donnelly said.

“I’ve heard from fellow centers across Iowa that they may have to tell parents that their slots are no longer available. I spent the morning trying to get back to emails and phone calls—there is a demand. Parents need us. And we can’t staff without predictive funds.”

Sinclair said during the subcommittee that she’s drafting an amendment that will address the issue of the greatly depressed preschool enrollment with no way to recoup costs. The amendment will also account for additional PPE costs and add language to distribute funds based on students served by school districts instead of student enrollment

“Thank you,” said Donnelly. “The not-knowing has been the most stressful part for everybody.”

Melissa Peterson of the Iowa State Education Association said they were originally registered opposed to the bill because ISEA “did not like at all, frankly, the inequitable distribution of the one-time funding.”

She said that after reading the amendment, ISEA might be able to register in support of this proposal.


by Isabella Murray
Posted 3/16/21

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