Two Idaho Republicans Pitch Preschool Pilot Program Dubbed 'Kindergarten Preparedness'

Mar 20, 2015

On Monday, two Idaho Republicans will tiptoe into a public preschool debate the state's Legislature hasn't been willing to confront. Idaho is one of 10 states without public preschool.

Reps. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, and Christy Perry, R-Nampa, are introducing a preschool pilot program they're calling "kindergarten preparedness."

"We’ve been told all year long that children are not prepared for kindergarten," Rep. McDonald says. "If they're not prepared for kindergarten they're certainly not prepared for school."

McDonald says the three-year pilot program will use a combination of state and private money to launch optional early education programs at participating public schools across the state.

“It will give us data we need to prove or disprove whether this kind of a program is worth spending on,” McDonald says.

One  rural Idaho school does have about 15 years of data showing how its preschool program has impacted children. Idaho City's Basin School District launched a public pre-K program using federal forest payments, a grant, and some tuition.

The district's preliminary data show kids who went to preschool are more academically advanced.

As we reported last month, Basin's data show "more than half of kids who went to preschool score at the ‘advanced’ level in reading."

“They’re more likely to take our advanced courses at high school which would include biotechnology, college prep English and so forth,” Basin Superintendent John McFarlane said. “The students who started in preschool are graduating at higher rates and are attending college at higher rates.”

Reps. McDonald and Perry's pilot bill seeks between $1 million and $2 million.

“I think the benefits are going to be obvious, and we’re going to get more participation in the program,” McDonald says.

The title of the bill, Kindergarten Preparedness Pilot Program, suggests the two lawmakers are trying to re-brand preschool in an effort to make early childhood education more palatable to legislators who've been ideologically opposed to it.

"If you talk about kindergarten – a lot of times the term is synonymous [with preschool] -- preschool can be kindergarten," McDonald explains. "This is pre-kindergarten. That’s the difference. We’re talking about children 4-years-old."

Back in 2013, Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the most important factor in a child's education comes from their parents.

"We should be training parents, not training 3 and 4-year-olds," he said. "The state-run programs that have been set up through taxpayer dollars, actually relieve parents of that responsibility of working with their children."

Rep. McDonald points to success with Utah's preschool program. He says in Utah, the state is getting a positive return on its early childhood investment.

“I think the benefits are going to be obvious, and we’re going to get more participation in the program,” McDonald says.

Find Emilie Ritter Saunders on Twitter @emiliersaunders

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