Kloc pushes for private sector to fund pre-K pilots

Rep. Hy Kloc plans to again ask lawmakers to support a bill establishing five pilot pre-kindergarten programs across the state, but this time the largest investments would come from the private sector.

The Boise Democrat, who is being challenged by Republican Jim Silsby in next week’s general election, is looking for private support with a small amount of public funding for early-childhood education programs.

Idaho does not require children to enroll in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classes and only funds half-day kindergarten.

“Data overwhelmingly supports offering pre-kindergarten to Idaho families,” Kloc said. “Many Idaho children are not prepared for school.”

Kloc’s 2014 bill received preliminary approval from the House Education Committee, but went no further.

If elected, Kloc plans to make two major changes to the bill before presenting it to the 2015 Legislature.

  1. Open the eligibility of the five participating schools to include both public and private providers.
  2. Fund most of the three-year pilot project with private dollars, instead or a more equal, shared investment between private and public entites.

“After talking to the business community, I’ve decided to open this up to the private sector and change the funding mechanism,” Kloc said. “If the business community isn’t pushing it, it isn’t going anywhere.”

Other features of proposed legislation resemble last year’s bill:

  • The State Department of Education would develop and administer the program.
  • Five schools or classes — either public or private — will be selected through an application process. Each class size would be limited to 14 to 22 students and the instructors and providers must be licensed.
  • Data from the three-year, five-class pilots would be collected to contribute to ongoing conversations about early-childhood education.

“There is no Idaho data on the effectiveness of kindergarten preparedness programs,” Kloc said. “We still need Idaho data.”

The program would be funded by “socially responsible investment bonds.” Idaho taxpayers would be asked to pay 5 percent interest, or whatever rate is negotiated. The bonds require legislative approval.

The investment — likely originating with a large bank — would cost between $3,000 to $5,000 per child over three years, totaling about $1.4 million. Idaho’s interest payment could be as little as $50,000 and profit those who buy bonds from the originating investor.

Kloc said the state’s investment in pre-kindergarten classes could come from its current $10 million in remediation costs.

“It’s going to take every shoulder behind the wheel,” said Jon Watts, a partner with Veritas Advisors, which represents Idaho Voices for Children. “We’re looking at market-driven, private-sector solutions.”

Kloc said he will seek bipartisan support.

“This also gives us an opportunity to put together a data base of qualified programs,” Kloc said.

Watts said it’s important to get more of Idaho’s 20,000 4-year-olds in licensed programs.

“At first we want to get it off the ground to show it’s a good idea, maybe using existing child care centers and other entities such as churches or YMCAs,” he said. “We don’t want a lot of subsiding and are looking at redirecting existing federal funds.”

The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s education and government committees have voiced initial support for Kloc’s plan, and would consider full endorsement after reviewing the bill’s final language.