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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 Senate Narrowly Approves $6 Million Pre-K Education Grant

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A $6 million federal grant to boost early childhood education in Idaho passed the state Senate by a single vote Monday.

The effort barely overcame concerns of far-right lawmakers and interest groups that the money would fund the indoctrination of kids with social justice and leftist priorities.

Sen. Regina Bayer (R-Meridian) mentioned a similar fight the legislature has had with Idaho’s colleges and universities over those same concerns.

Last week, House lawmakers rejected the higher education budget last week 13-57, which would’ve cut $409,000 from Boise State University’s budget.

“Why would we possibly condone even letting this slip in to our young children,” Bayer asked.

But other lawmakers said those concerns are unfounded when it comes to this grant.

The money would instead be spent by local collaboratives made up of parents, faith leaders, teachers and businesses. Programs would also be monitored by the Idaho State Board of Education to ensure compliance.

“Absolutely no money will be used to teach social justice or human sexuality. This bill is about teaching reading and math to our young children,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise).

Sen. Carl Crabtree (R-Grangeville) said it was pushed by conservative business leaders and approved by the Trump administration.

“This is a common-sense approach from business in Idaho and the Trump administration,” Crabtree said. “Makes sense to me.”

But Sen. Christy Zito (R-Hammett) also blasted the use of federal dollars when the United States is $28 trillion in debt.

Zito said accepting the grant just because another state might be given those dollars that could’ve been used in Idaho doesn’t make sense to her.

“[That] would be like looking at a drug user and telling him if he didn’t get those drugs from his pusher the pusher will just sell them to someone else,” Zito said.

The bill now goes to the House, which narrowly shot down a similar proposal last month.

 Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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