Idaho is receiving a new federal preschool grant — but advocates are avoiding the word “preschool.”
Instead, they are saying the three-year, $6 million grant will allow the state to work with educators and schools and community and business partners on early learning options.
The long-term goal — according to a joint news release from the State Board of Education and the Association for the Education of Young Children, a nonprofit advocacy group — is to “build a mixed-delivery system for parents with young children.”
The semantics are significant, given Idaho’s politics. Idaho is one of just a handful of states that does not fund pre-kindergarten programs, and conservative legislators have long resisted publicly funded pre-K.
But on Tuesday, Gov. Brad Little and State Board President Debbie Critchfield both said they hope the federal funding will help the state meet one of its top education goals: early childhood literacy. Reading has been a growth area in the state’s budget; the state is putting $26 million into literacy programs in 2020-21, a sum that has doubled since Little took office.
“This federal grant is an opportunity to fortify local communities with resources to help families prepare their children to be ready to learn,” Critchfield said.
In the joint news release, AEYC Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer emphasized flexible options.
“Every community throughout Idaho is unique, and the approach to investing in early learning must meet the needs of all Idahoans,” she said. “By understanding the different choices and options that work for our families, we are better positioned to improve early learning outcomes and options that best fit each individual community’s needs.”
The new federal money should arrive in January, and it’s Idaho’s second cut from the Preschool Development Grant program.
In late 2019, Idaho received $3.3 million from the feds, which was used to complete a needs assessment on early education in Idaho.