It was almost a year ago that I first began exploring options for an education bill. Meeting with teachers and parents between legislative sessions, I quickly realized that the advantages of quality pre-kindergarten education made it the obvious choice. Most other states were already funding pre-K programs. Nationally, it was the one of the few educational initiatives that appeared to have champions in every quarter from science and industry to government. To my mind, there was every reason for optimism.
The Idaho Legislature had seen bills for pre-K education before. All of them had failed — not because they were bad bills, but because many Idaho legislators didn’t see pre-K as an essential investment for the future success of our youth or our economy.
To counter past concerns, especially around funding, I crafted a pre-K bill for a three-year pilot program that would be paid for by a public-private partnership. This pilot would involve five schools from across the state selected by the State Department of Education. Student participation would be voluntary, class size would be small, and parents would play an active role. Results from the pilot would determine if pre-K was right for Idaho.
I knew public support would shape the bill’s reception in the Idaho Legislature. So early drafts circulated among educators, parents, and educational advocates to collect their input and build a base of support. While I was hopeful the initiative would be well received, I wasn’t prepared for the flood of support that followed.
There were the early supporters such as Jim Everett, Treasure Valley YMCA; Nora Carpenter, United Way; Beth Oppenheimer and Kattalina Berriochoa, Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children; LeAnn Simmons, Idaho Voices for Children; as well as teachers and school administrators who had participated in pre-K programs, Idaho City School District’s John McFarlane being one. And there were some surprises, too.
Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney said investment in the pre-K bill offered a better return for Idaho than spending on prison beds. Admiral Archie Clemins, retired Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, tied our national defense to quality early education. And business leaders, including Tommy Ahlquist, COO of The Gardner Group, and Ray Stark and Bill Connors of the Boise Chamber of Commerce, made the case that an educated workforce was essential for Idaho’s economy to expand and thrive. Proving that pre-K is truly a nonpartisan issue, Rep. Doug Hancey, (R) Rexburg, and Rep. Christy Perry, (R) Nampa, joined me as co-sponsors of the bill.
Coverage in the media, especially the commitment shown by Michelle Edmonds of Channel 6 News, helped get the initiative printed as HB 586 and voted on by the Education Committee in the final weeks of the 2014 legislative session. While that’s a long way from being passed into law, still, it’s greater progress than any of the previous attempts.
Thomas Edison said, “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those individuals and organizations statewide that showed support for HB 586. While this bill may be dead, I want to assure you the campaign in support of pre-K education is still alive and well. In fact, the next phase kicks off the moment the gavel drops ending the 2014 legislative session.
We will be back in 2015. And the reason is simple: None of us can afford to give up on Idaho’s future.