Idaho falls further behind in early-child education spending

Lawmakers have said families, not the state, should teach toddlers.

broberts@idahostatesman.comDecember 3, 2013 

Twenty-six states across the country increased their support for early-child education in the past year, according to a report by the Education Commission of the States due out this month.

Twenty-two were in red states, said Bruce Atchison, director of the commission’s Early Learning Institute.

You can’t count Idaho among them because the state is one of nine that has refused to put taxpayer money into running preschool programs. The other eight are Arizona, Montana, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

The commission provides nonpartisan information to states to help them formulate education policy.

Atchison is in Boise to meet with business and technology groups and talk about what the commission has learned from states about early childhood education. He’s coming as Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, prepares to introduce legislation next year asking the state to spend about $600,000 to pair with money from businesses for a $1.4 million preschool program in five Idaho school districts to study their effectiveness.

Any successful attempt to get state-supported preschool going in Idaho faces two obstacles: Legislators who say early-child education is a family affair and not the role of the state; and lawmakers who say if Idaho has additional money for education, it should go to K-12, not preschool.

Those are familiar arguments to Atchison. His responses:

• Family business: Twenty-five percent of Idaho’s kids are from poor families. Many have parents struggling to make ends meet or don’t have the skills to provide early-childhood training to their kids. Studies show that early-childhood education has the greatest impact on students from low-income homes. “It is not the role of government, in my opinion, to take over the role of parents,” Atchison said. “When you have parents that struggle, when you have children who enter kindergarten not ready to learn because they haven’t had the opportunity, then absolutely it is the role of government. And because government doesn’t intervene you end up with kids that aren’t reading at third grade because it is too little, too late.”

• Money crunch: For-profit businesses look for the highest possible return on investment, Atchison said. When people look at the history of the K-12 system and where the money is spent, they see failures: Dismal graduation rates and dismal third-grade reading proficiency rates. You can pay now or pay later, Atchison said.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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