Idaho may be called the “gem state” but as regards early childhood education it hardly shines. Students in Idaho are not required to attend preschool or even kindergarten. For years preschool has been a topic in the state House and Senate education committees, yet it continually suffers defeat as legislators worry about cost since 48 percent of the state’s overall budget is dedicated to K-12 public education. Some of their concerns involve just how school districts would incur expenses and locate facility space as well as qualified preschool teachers.
A recent study published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) shows an increase nationally for state investment in preschools, citing nationwide spending now equating to “nearly $5,000 per child enrolled.” In addition, the NIEER report includes research on what makes a high-quality early-childhood program. And though Idaho does not fund preschool, it does provide investment for slots in Head Start and Early Head Start and does seem to be “focused on the future,” according to the report. Idaho does have updated early learning guidelines and does help fund children from low-income families or migrant families and children who have developmental delays or disabilities. A private investor, the Lee Pesky Learning Center, is seeking support from the SDE to create early literacy programs. And a recent grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will fund polling and focus groups to rally support for continued pre-K efforts in the state.
In Idaho most families pay for private preschool or do without. About 3,000 students attend state and federally funded Head Start programs and another 2,000 attend special education programs. Yet resources are shrinking. Just last week the 26-year old Blaine County Head Start supported in part by the College of Southern Idaho closed its doors due to a budget shortfall.
If 90 percent of Idaho’s 3 and 4 year olds do not have access to preschool (as current figures purport) the impact will be felt for decades in the local economy. Educators and most parents do know that these children might not be prepared for kindergarten or struggle to keep up, and that having access to preschool leads to increased educational success and greater productivity in adulthood. While some local programs are taking hold (for example, some districts offer preschool on a sliding fee scale), supporters say it could be years before Idaho has a statewide program.
Barnett, Stephen, et al. “The State of Preschool 2016.” The National Institute for Early Education Research 2017. 65-66. www.nieer.org.
Hinton, Marva. “States’ Pre-K Access.” Education Week. 08 June 2017. www.edweek.org.
Richert, Kevin. “No Funding, but Some Hope.” Idaho Education News. 06 June 2017. www.idahoednews.org.
Samuels, Christina. “State Preschool Funding Now Above Pre-Recession Levels.” Education Week. 26 May 2017. www.edweek.org.
Wootten, Julie. “Hailey’s Head Start Closing.” Times News. 07 June 2017. A-1. “Legislature Winds Down Without Preschool Bill.” Times News. 26 March 2017. www.magicvalley.com.