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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.

Idaho University Public Policy Centers Team Up To Examine State’s Preschool Problem

Corie Howell
Flickr Creative Commons

Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public  Policy and the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy have teamed up to host a conference on early childhood education in Idaho. It’s Monday at Garden City’s Riverside Hotel.  

Idaho is one of an increasingly small handful of states without state-funded preschool. Before the conference, the U of I’s McClure Center decided to study Idaho’s current early learning landscape. McClure Center Director Priscilla Salant says they could not get an accurate count of how many young Idaho kids have access to early childhood education.

Salant says there are 140,000 Idaho kids under 6-years-old, and more than half of them live in homes where all parents work. She says there are a couple thousand Idaho kids in private, nationally accredited preschools, and a few thousand in federal Head Start programs. She says they can get a rough idea of how many children are in daycare, but have no idea how many of those kids are learning skills they will need in school.

What they do know, Salant says, is that almost half of Idaho kids lack the skills they need to start school according to the Idaho Reading Indicator, an assessment given to every kindergartner.

“So while we don’t know what’s happening with young children before they get to kindergarten, there is a red flag in terms of their skills once they get to school,” Salant says.  

She says creating something that will work and gain acceptance in Idaho won’t be easy. But that’s what the conference is about.

Speakers include the head of Mississippi’s preschool program and the speaker of Utah’s House of Representatives, which has recently created an early learning program.

Salant says there is momentum building for creating early learning programs in Idaho.

“That I suspect will combine elements of community based, family based, school district based programing,” Salant says. “But I don’t see a statewide program across the state of Idaho.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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