Guest Opinion: Pre-K’s value is evident; Idaho must come on board


February 28, 2014 

Preschool education is one of the few issues important enough to rise above politics. That’s because it affects every person, company and organization in Idaho.

For me, it’s a matter of personal passion for children and their well-being. It outweighs politics. I believe in the merits of an evidence-based education system that provides opportunities for every youth to succeed. I also recognize the effects that a better-educated state would have on the economic climate.

Few argue against the benefits of pre-kindergarten education. The data is in. The stories have been told. Everyone agrees that children who receive an earlier start receive a critical advantage.

The debate begins when the topic of state involvement arises. When public money enters the conversation, fervent opinions flare.

Regardless of your stance on state-funded preschool, there’s a reasonable first step on the table — a proposal that provides common ground.

Idaho Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, recently introduced a bill, with bipartisan support, for a preschool pilot program. It would be a public/private partnership: 55 percent of funding from the private sector and 45 percent from the state.

For Idahoans, the risk is very low. At a total cost of $600,000 of public money, spread over a three-year period, 300 students in five schools would receive pre-K education. During that time, the data gathered would give lawmakers and the general populace further insight into the effects of preschool learning on Idaho children.

Idaho-specific data would be a valuable addition to the national statistics we already have. U.S. research shows that children who attend preschool are 29 percent more likely to graduate from high school, 33 percent less likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 42 percent less likely to commit a violent crime and 41 percent less likely to be placed in special-education courses.

Beyond reducing the amount of taxpayer money spent on social services later in life, pre-K education also fans the flames of economic growth. Our children have unique talents. They have aspirations. They’re brimming with innovation.

If we invest in children’s lives now, a higher percentage of them will achieve their career goal. It will make Idaho a better place to live for generations to come.

Those good-paying jobs we’re always talking about? With adequate opportunities to succeed, today’s young children are the ones who 15 to 20 years from now will lead our economy, our families and our communities.

This vision has begun to draw companies, organizations, governmental agencies and individuals who don’t usually work together. They’re brushing aside differences and literally sitting at the same table, forging projects that make children and Idaho’s future the No. 1 priority.

Multisector endeavors such as the P16 Caldwell Education Project and the Treasure Valley Education Project have been putting early education and post-high school education in the same conversation for the past few years. Privately raised money is fueling measurable progress in line with the state’s goal to see 60 percent of Idaho adults have a degree by 2020.

It’s time for the state government to join these nonprofit projects in support of preschool education. A public-private partnership is the right place to start — and now, not later, is the right time.

Thomas Ahlquist, in addition to being a doctor, is the chief operating officer at the Gardner Co., which developed the recently opened Eighth & Main building in Downtown Boise.

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