I read with great interest Statesman reporter Bill Roberts’ July 5 story on the Pre-K education initiative to be undertaken by business leaders and early-education advocates. This is good news for all Idahoans who believe a quality Pre-K education should be available to every child, not just the privileged few.
Two years ago, I introduced a Pre-K bill in the Legislature that called for a three-year pilot program funded through a public/private partnership with the business community. The goal was to create a quality, voluntary program that had the full support and active participation of parents and educators.
Business leaders, childhood education advocates, teachers, parents, legislators and even a prominent member of the law enforcement community joined me at a press event held at the Capitol to announce the proposed bill. Despite the enthusiastic support, I was keenly aware of just how difficult passage of the bill would be.
Pre-K bills were not new to the state Legislature. Previous proposals had failed to gain traction, in part due to concerns over funding. This time I hoped my funding model and the public’s concern over Idaho’s growing academic deficit would spark a conversation that would eventually result in legislative support for the bill — or at the very least, a variation of the bill. The conversation was a success, but the bill, unfortunately, was not.
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While the bill got high marks from parents and educators in communities across the state, it failed to muster the legislative momentum necessary to move it out of the Education Committee. Last year I reached across the aisle and worked with Republican colleagues on a modified bill that I thought addressed the majority of concerns expressed by dissenting lawmakers, but it did only marginally better than the original. My lack of progress inside the Capitol would have been dispiriting were it not for the progress I was seeing outside the Capitol. More and more organizations were engaging in a conversation that covered a number of educational initiatives, Pre-K included. Now the press is reporting a new Pre-K initiative undertaken by the business community. I couldn’t be more pleased and supportive.
If there is a silver lining to being one of only a handful of states not to offer a Pre-K program, it’s that now we have the opportunity to learn and build on what other states have accomplished. The Statesman article mentioned that the proposed initiative would follow the new Mississippi Pre-K program. While this plan is relatively new, my research on Pre-K revealed some outstanding examples of quality programs backed up by years of hard data. This research is available on my website, hykloc.org.
No matter what course this new Pre-K initiative takes, if it can win over lawmakers, I am confident that we will find the resources we need to succeed. And I, for one, will continue to do all that I can to ensure that success. And the reason is quite simple: Pre-K is what’s best for our children, for our communities and for the future of the great state of Idaho.
Hy Kloc is the State House Representative, District 16, Seat B and Pre-K advocate.