Group: 26 states boost pre-K funding

At least 26 states increased funding for pre-kindergarten programs in 2013, including two states that have launched pre-K.

And this trend underscores the case for launching a pre-K pilot program in Idaho, says Bruce Atchison, director of the Early Learning Institute for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

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Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise

Atchison is in Boise this week at the invitation of Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, who is drafting a pre-K bill for the 2014 legislative session. Atchison and Kloc had meetings scheduled with early education advocates and with two business groups, the Idaho Technology Council and Idaho Business for Education.

Atchison’s group — which provides education research to governors, state school superintendents, legislators and staffers — is working on a report on pre-K funding for release next week. While the results aren’t yet final, and the commission is still awaiting responses from a few states, Atchison shared a few highlights in an interview Monday. Twenty-six states have increased pre-K funding, he said, and only four of them would be considered “blue states.” With two states, Mississippi and Hawaii, launching state-funded pre-K, Idaho now is among only nine states that do not fund early education.

“We won’t slam these states, because we’re not about slamming,” Atchison said. “We’re about best practices.”

Idaho legislators have rejected several pre-K bills in recent years — questioning whether the state can afford to fund another year of education, and suggesting that young children are best taught at home.

The key to convincing legislators to fund a pre-K program may be in changing the dialogue, says Atchison. Education stakeholders can talk up the benefits of pre-K, but business leaders, law enforcement and parents all can have an important role.

Relatively speaking, funding issues are more easily solved. “There are ways to do funding,” Atchison said.

Kloc is drafting a bill to create three-year pilot pre-K programs. The programs would be voluntary, and the first 55 percent of funding would come from private entities. Kloc still has not decided whether the state or school districts would pick up the public end of funding.

Kloc says some Republican legislators are “very interested” in his pilot bill, and one wants to sign on as a co-sponsor. But Kloc declined to identify the lawmaker.

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