Supporters unveil pre-K pilot proposal

pre-K presser
Preschoolers from Boise’s Children’s Village listen to the start of a news conference on a pre-K pilot bill. Located in a Presbyterian church near the Statehouse, Children’s Village draws a diverse group of students, said Jim Everett, CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA. Some preschoolers come from affluent households; others live in City Light, a homeless shelter for mothers and children.

Joined, briefly, by a group of kids from a Downtown Boise preschool, state Rep. Hy Kloc unveiled his bill to establish a pre-kindergarten pilot program.

The private- and public-funded partnerships would cost the state $600,000 over three years. But supporters of the pilot, including Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, said a statewide pre-kindergarten system could save the state tens of millions of dollars a year in corrections costs.

“This is about the future of our state,” said Kloc, D-Boise.

The pre-K bill would set up five pilot programs across the state, running for three years. Pre-K attendance would be voluntary, and 55 percent of the funding would come from private sources.

Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise

Idaho is one of only nine states that does not fund pre-K; all told, states nationwide spend about $5 billion a year on pre-K, Kloc said Monday. And those numbers are trending upwards; in 2013, 26 states boosted funding for pre-K, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

But the Legislature has rejected other voluntary pre-K bills in the past — with opponents questioning whether Idaho can fund another year of education, and suggesting young children are best taught at home. Supporters of Kloc’s bill hope the private funding component, and the small scale of the pilot program, will help this pre-K proposal succeed where previous bills have failed.

But Kloc has said he will press the issue for as long as it takes, and his Republican co-sponsor echoed that message Monday.

Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg

“We’re not going to be defeated by one year,” said Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg, a fellow  fellow first-term lawmaker who has signed on to the pilot bill. “This is a good issue.”

Kloc hopes to introduce his bill in the House Education Committee in the next couple of weeks, which means its immediate fate rests with Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

On Monday, DeMordaunt said his top priority is focusing on the 20 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s task force — a group of 31 elected officials and education stakeholders that was ultimately silent on pre-K. Gov. Butch Otter has recommended putting $54.7 million into the task force recommendations, which carry a collective price of roughly $350 million.

“I want to make sure we do focus on the task force recommendations first,” said DeMordaunt, a task force member. “Certainly from a resource standpoint that’s where the monies are going to be going this year.”

DeMordaunt said it was “too early to say” whether he would simply scuttle the proposal altogether. And Kloc hopes he will at least get a hearing.

“He hasn’t said ‘no’ yet,” Kloc said of DeMordaunt.

Kloc also said he has fine-tuned the bill to address some of DeMordaunt’s concerns. The rewritten bill has stronger language on parental involvement, giving parents more of a role in developing day-to-day curriculum, and providing for home visits at parents’ request.

But preschools such as Downtown Boise Children’s Village bring together children from across the socioeconomic spectrum, and engage parents in childhood development.

“This is a partnership with parents,” said Jim Everett, CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA.

More background: In this guest opinion, Kloc argues for the need for a pre-K pilot program.

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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