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Idaho is one of 10 states that doesn't offer public preschool, although two of those states are currently experimenting with pilot programs.Idaho lawmakers have long wrestled over whether to provide a public education to preschool-aged children. Idaho's conservative majority has resisted.But now, the debate could be revived because a freshman Democratic lawmaker has begun working on a plan to implement public pre-k.

Why One Idaho Republican Became An Unlikely Champion For Public Preschool

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

Republican Tim Corder served two terms in Idaho’s state Senate. During that time, the farmer and truck driver became a hero to pre-kindergarten advocates and earned the ire of some of his colleagues. Corder's legislative career ended last year when he lost his primary race to a more conservative opponent. I met him last summer as he was packing up his senate office. Here is an excerpt of our conversation.

Q: How would you characterize your support for early childhood education during your time in the legislature?

A: I think I was one of the most adamant, consistent supporters of early education. One of the schools in my district, Basin in Idaho City was one of the very first ones in the state to have a pre-k program. That got me started into that learning process from the perspective of their legislator, I simply needed to defend their right to exist. And then I really started to learn about how important it is that we begin to educate children as early as possible.

What none of us dare forget is that there are homes that are not able to care for children, period.  We can’t stop them from having children, we can’t legislate that. Maybe we simply ought to have a process where we can give those children some opportunities early on to overcome those problems that we know they’re going to have. Because we as a state, we as a country cannot afford to lose any mind.

Q: Is that a difficult argument to make to your fellow Republicans?

A: It seems to be. There are some Republicans who understand that when we have programs in advance that eliminate problems later on it’s cost effective. But there's still a large number of legislators who simply don’t want the state involved with anyone’s family. And they have either convinced themselves that those families who can’t do it don’t exist or that it’s their problem and we simply ought to make them step up to the plate and be personally responsible.

Q: One of administrators in Idaho City told me that when they came to the capitol (to give a presentation on the district’s preschool) one of the lawmakers accused them of wanting to steal babies from their parents. Is there a big cultural divide here?

A: That’s just baloney. The state’s not out to incur more costs, just because. It is a vast divide between people who think like that and people who face the reality. And frankly I don’t know if I want to try to understand that philosophy because it’s too immature.

Q: What would you like to see happen with early childhood education in Idaho?

A: Resources are stretched so thin it’s difficult for any district to reach out and try to get younger kids in. What I suspect we will begin to see is more programs where there’s a fee so parents will be able to use the public system for pre-k kids. But I’d certainly like to see more access and not just for English as a second language kids, or challenged kids, physical or mental challenges. But a program of such a nature that when kids are ready they can have it. It can be as much about social interaction as anything else and learning how to communicate and how to work with other people. I don’t think Idaho is thinking about mandatory systems, but certainly the voluntary ones ought to be there. And the children we will get are those lower income ones because they need the help and frankly they’re families are the first to recognize that they do need the help.

Q: Would you like to see a statewide pre-k similar to the kindergarten program we have now?

A: I think it certainly ought to be in the planning stages right now, we ought to be preparing for it because we will be coming to that point.

Q: Do you think it’s inevitable?

A: It appears to me that it is. Just with the societal changes around us it appears that more and more people are going to want a publicly funded, publicly standardized program. I think that’s key. Let’s have a standardized program so we can at least know what the goals ought to be at beginning kindergarten and then if parents choose another way, okay.

Find more stories in our series on preschool in Idaho at these links:

Map: Idaho Is One Of 10 States Without Public Preschool

State Of Idaho Lags On Preschool, Districts Lead

Idaho School Districts Take On Public Preschool Without State Funding

Why Caldwell Might Represent The Future Of Public Preschool In Idaho

Idaho Would Get $20 Million Under President Obama's Plan To Expand Preschool

Idaho Opposition To Public Preschool Is About Money And Ideology

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