A look at poverty and kindergarten readiness

UPDATED, 5:22 p.m., to correct the source of the study.

A new study, released Tuesday by the United Way of Treasure Valley, provides some new insight into two issues surrounding Idaho’s pre-K debate.

Kindergarten readiness remains spotty, in the Treasure Valley and across the state. And student poverty continues to increase.

At 82 pages, the United Way’s Community Assessment 2014 packs in a trove of statistics about the job market, health care, mental health and public transportation.

Here are two sets of numbers that speak, at least indirectly, to the pre-K issue:

  • The percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch has increased across the Treasure Valley, and across the state. In 2012, 37 percent of Ada County students qualified for subsidized lunch. In Canyon and Gem counties, those figures were 64 percent and 57 percent, respectively — surpassing the statewide average of 48 percent.
  • Kindergartners’ scores on the Idaho Reading Indicator appear flat. This fall, 66.1 percent of Ada County kindergartners received a “benchmark,” or grade-level score. That’s above the statewide average of 54.3 percent — but statewide and Ada County scores dropped slightly from 2013. Kindergarten-readiness scores increased slightly in Canyon and Gem counties.

Pre-K backers say early education programs will better prepare students for kindergarten — and reduce the socioeconomic gaps between families that now can afford early learning opportunities, and those that cannot.

Pre-K has been a recurring Statehouse issue. In 2014, Boise Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc pushed a bill to create a pre-K pilot program. That bill didn’t get out of a House committee in 2014. Kloc, re-elected last month, has pledged to bring back another pilot bill.

As the United Way study notes, Idaho is among only a handful of states without a state-funded pre-K program. But the study favors an “all-of-the-above” approach to early education.

“Early education greatly benefits children. It also can decrease education costs by keeping him or her in class with peers instead of in special programs. There are many settings where children could receive early education experiences, including at home, in private preschools, at day care centers, and in federally funded Head Start programs.”

More data: Look for more Idaho Reading Indicator scores, by school and district, at the State Department of Education’s website.