Poll finds widespread support for state-funded pre-K

A supermajority of Idahoans says the state should put money into pre-kindergarten programs, according to new statewide polling data.

Seventy-six percent of voters and 80 percent of parents of children 5 and younger support state-funding for pre-K, according to the poll unveiled Wednesday by the Association for the Education of Young Children, an early education advocacy group.

Beth Oppenheimer

Idaho is among only a handful of states that does not fund pre-K, and the idea has run into stiff resistance at the Statehouse. But AEYC Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer says she hopes the new data will make pre-K into a “safe issue” for lawmakers.

“This has been a missing piece in the whole conversation,” Oppenheimer said at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday morning. “We didn’t really know what Idahoans all across the state think.”

The poll found Idahoans are hard-wired on the pre-K issue. Solid majorities of respondents said they strongly support state-funded pre-K, and 76 percent of parents said they would use state-funded preschool, if it was available to them. That passion was somewhat of a surprise to Erik Iverson, the president and CEO of Moore Information, the polling company that compiled the Idaho results.

“You see a lot of intensity and a lot of passion,” he said.

The survey of 509 Idahoans — including 103 parents with children age 5 and under — also indicated widespread concerns about the state of early education, and widespread belief in the value of pre-K:

  • Sixty-nine percent of voters and parents both said the state should do more to ensure kindergartners enter school with the skills they need.
  • Fifty-five percent of parents said existing preschool programs are unaffordable to most Idahoans.
  • By overwhelming majorities, in the 80 percent range, parents and voters said quality pre-K helps students succeed in grade school, will provide a return on investment for the state and communities and will help the state develop a qualified and educated work force.

Pre-K legislation has gained little ground at the Statehouse. Bipartisan pre-K bills have received hearings in recent legislative sessions, but have never received a vote in committee, let alone on the House or Senate floor.

That still appears unlikely to change in 2018.

Neither Gov. Butch Otter nor state superintendent Sherri Ybarra are seeking state funding for pre-K. Ybarra is pushing what she has hailed as a free solution to the pre-K impasse: a digital app that a for-profit vendor has promised to make available at no cost to parents of 4-year-olds.

Idaho Business for Education is still holding out for legislation, but the statewide group of CEOs has modest expectations for 2018. IBE wants a committee hearing — but no formal vote — on a pre-K bill modeled after a Mississippi early education law. The Idaho bill has been in the works for a couple of years, and has never received a hearing.

But on Wednesday, Oppenheimer suggested legislators are slowly coming around.

“There are a handful of legislators who are interested,” she said. “There are more today than there were a year ago, even.”

Moore Information, a national polling company with three decades’ experience in Idaho, conducted the telephone poll in late April and early May. The survey has a margin of error of 5 percent for voter responses, and a 10 percent margin of error for responses from the smaller sample of parents of young children.

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