We stood in support of the pre-K bill, proposed by Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc and co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Douglas Hancey. This bill would have set up five pilot pre-kindergarten programs across the state, with 55 percent of the funding coming from private sources; a conservative price to pay for the massive benefit of investing early in Idaho’s young learners.
School Superintendent Tom Luna said that he believed preschoolers are best taught at home, and he was not alone in this belief. But even he admitted that some students aren’t adequately taught at home. Regardless of how you feel about it, the fact remains that across the United States, approximately two-out-of-three mothers of young children work outside the home. Access to quality early childhood programs means that these children are in safe environments; learning and playing while their parents work. Parental engagement in education tends to improve with increased access to pre-k programs. Those in the profession of working with young children know that attending a great pre-kindergarten program not only supports the learning of young children but also engages parents to be their child’s first and best teachers.
Mr. Luna admitted that Idaho “would be remiss to ignore” the fact that preschoolers don’t come to kindergarten prepared to learn. And he is right. The old rhetoric of “kids don’t learn anything before five years old” has been debunked by recent research. The recent explosion in neuroscience research tells us that the critical period for establishing lifelong school preparedness is the preschool years. It is well-documented that the most rapid brain development happens in the first several years of life. It makes scientific sense that when Idaho’s children start behind before they even reach kindergarten; making it much more difficult for them to catch up later. A staggering 60 percent of Idaho’s 4th and 8th graders aren’t proficient in math and reading. Then fast-forward to high school: Idaho ranks near the bottom for the number of students who continue to education beyond high school. For every 10 Idaho freshmen in high school, only one will graduate from college. A recent 2014 Quality Counts report ranked Idaho 50th overall in terms of K-12 success. According to this report, Idaho students have less of a chance to succeed compared to last year.
“I don’t think we’re ready,” said Mr. Luna regarding the pre-k pilot program. First of all, who is “we?” Parents across Idaho have shown support for quality early learning programs for their children. And if “we” aren’t ready now… then when? Shouldn’t we be setting our children up for success from the very beginning?
We are proud to be Idahoans, and we want to feel pride in the education our state gives to our children. They are our legacy. Research and experience is telling us to invest early. We are being called to invest our efforts and policies in the critical years when not just learning happens, but the love of learning blossoms.
With early investments, we can help prevent poor kindergarten preparedness, prevent low 4th and 8th grade proficiency testing, and prevent high school failures and dropouts. We think we are ready to do this now. This is a plea for esteemed policymakers and fellow citizens to learn more about the science of early childhood development and listen to the stories of parents around them who have experienced quality early education. Then you will most certainly see that supporting pre-k programs in Idaho is one of the best investments that we can make for our state.