Obama renews push for pre-K funding

As Idaho considers a pre-K pilot program, President Obama is calling on Congress to ramp up the federal government’s investment in early education.

“Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” Obama said during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. “Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.”

While waiting on Congress, Obama said he would convene “a coalition of elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists” to look at ways to expand pre-K offerings.

In renewing his pre-K pitch, Obama cited some numbers that have come up in the debate over pre-K funding in Idaho. In the past year, 30 states increased their funding for pre-K, according to the Education Commission of the States, based in Denver.

Idaho is one of 10 states that does not fund pre-K programs. Reps. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, and Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg, are co-sponsoring a bill to establish three-year pre-K pilots in five schools. The pilots would receive $600,000 in state funding over three years, but 55 percent of their funding would come from private sources.

No hearing has been held or scheduled on the pilot bill, and House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt has not said whether he will give the bill a hearing.

Obama’s address also included what could be considered a vague nod to Common Core — the academic standards that are driving changes in math and English language arts curriculum in Idaho and 44 other states.

Obama didn’t mention the Common Core effort by name, but spoke of the need for more challenging school curriculum and the need for tests that “measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.”

That too may be read as an unspoken reference to Common Core, and the more rigorous tests that are associated with the standards. Critics, including some district superintendents, have questioned the six- to eight-hour online Common Core-based assessment, which will be field-tested in Idaho schools this spring. State Superintendent Tom Luna is allowing schools to opt out of testing ninth- and 10th-graders this spring, but he defends the value of a comprehensive test that goes beyond simple multiple choice.

Education was a small component in Obama’s hour-long address. The address was panned by Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation — Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador — although their post-speech reactions did not mention education topics.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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