Guest Opinions

All of Idaho deserves a choice

Idahoans love opportunities for choice. Many of us get to ultimately choose where we live, work, play, and we certainly value opportunities for choice when it comes to educating our children. Thankfully, Idaho has a variety of choices when it comes to schools and learning opportunities. Unfortunately, those choices are not available for all of Idaho’s children in their most formative years.

Affordable, high-quality early learning programs are few and far between in the Gem State. And, most high-quality early learning programs are outside the financial reach for most families. As a result, families are left with no choice if they want their children to participate in early childhood education.

What we know is that families that can afford these programs, often take advantage of participation but families that cannot afford it, simply don’t. As we celebrate educational choice in Idaho, it’s past time that those choices should include early learning for all children and in all communities in Idaho.

Today and Wednesday , we will be hosting a series of events to celebrate Idaho’s Early Learning Legislative Day. We welcome you to join these communitywide events to raise awareness of the importance of early learning and discuss ways that we can take action towards a better future for all of our children. This is a time that we can look to our state leaders and tell them that opportunities for early learning must be available to all of our youngest children and must be included in the continuum of Idaho’s education system.

Idaho is one of five states throughout the country that does not offer families opportunities for affordable, high-quality preschool. That coupled with the fact that nearly 50 percent of our children enter school without the basic foundational skills needed for learning, one would argue that we are paying a steep price for the lack of investments in early childhood education.

From the very first day of school, close to half of our children are labeled as “already behind.” Our kindergarten and first-grade teachers are essentially having to teach two different classrooms and a tremendous amount of stress is put on our children to “catch up.”

Numerous studies have shown that children thrive when given the opportunity to participate in developmentally and age-appropriate early learning experiences. We should be helping our children develop a love of learning that will allow them to be successful throughout their lives. Providing early learning opportunities for our children is not about teaching K-3 skills at an earlier age, but rather ensuring children develop the foundational skills they will need to succeed in K-12, higher education and beyond.

Join us this week and send a message to our state leaders that quality early learning is a priority issue and is critical to the future of our youngest children. Let’s give all Idaho families that choice.

Beth Oppenheimer, of Boise, is the executive director of Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

Early Learning Legislative Day

“The Raising of America” will be shown at 6 p.m. today at the Lincoln Auditorium, and opportunities to participate in rallies and presentations sponsored by the Association for the Education of Young Children on Wednesday. See idahoaeyc.org/earlylearn ingday.php for details.

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