Report: Idaho pre-K enrollment lagging

When it comes to preschool enrollment — particularly in low-income households — Idaho ranks near the bottom nationally.

About 18,000 Idaho 3- or 4-year-olds live in low-income households and are not enrolled in preschool, according to a study released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

To put this number in national perspective, 69 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income Idaho households do not attend preschool. The national average is 63 percent, but state-by-state figures vary widely; in New Jersey, the rate was 45 percent, in Nevada, it was a worst-in-the-nation 78 percent. Only five states ranked lower than Idaho.

“Idaho’s future prosperity depends on today’s investments in young children. By providing nurturing learning experiences in the early years—when the brain architecture develops—we prepare our children for the lifelong acquisition of skills,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KIDS COUNT, a Boise-based nonprofit group funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Preschool has long been an emotional debate in Idaho. Early-learning advocates say pre-kindergarten will help prepare young children for school, both intellectually and developmentally. Critics have questioned whether the state can afford to fund another year of school, and have suggested young children are best taught at home.

The pre-kindergarten issue may resurface again in 2014. State Rep. Hy Kloc is preparing a pre-K pilot bill — with the three-year pilots funded from a private-public partnership. (Here is a link to Kloc’s recent guest opinion on pre-K.)


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