Nearly half of Idaho’s children entering kindergarten do not have the foundational skills they need to be successful in school. Kindergarten teachers will tell you they see too many children who have never held a pair of scissors or a crayon before entering the classroom. Half of them cannot identify 11 letters in the alphabet. They’ll also tell you that far too many of our children do not have the social and emotional skills they need to set them on a path of successful learning.
It is time for our policy makers to pay attention. And if we don’t hold elected politicians accountable for supporting solutions to combat this challenge, nobody will.
A recent statewide poll found that the overwhelming majority of Idahoans – 76 percent – support state investment in pre-K options for Idaho families. Parents of young children showed even more enthusiasm, with support at 80 percent. Working families across Idaho understand that high-quality pre-K is currently neither accessible nor affordable. Too many are forced to choose between putting food on the table and having a safe, nurturing place for their child to learn and grow.
The reasons to invest in high-quality pre-K choices are numerous. Early experiences affect whether a child’s brain will build itself properly. In fact, 90 percent of brain development occurs before age 5. Learning through play and developing stable relationships help young children build social and emotional skills that have positive effects throughout life.
Additionally, the more we invest in pre-K options for families now, the more those children will give back later in life. Children who participate in high-quality pre-K programs are more likely to graduate from high school, continue with higher education and have greater earning power. And they save the state money by reducing the need for expensive remedial programs and participation in social welfare programs. Children who have experienced high-quality pre-K are also less likely to commit crimes that cause pain to others and land them in the justice system. And finally, pre-k advances the success of our K-12 system. These positive effects are something we should all be able to get behind.
Our children can’t vote. They depend on us to learn where the candidates running for office stand when it comes to investing in their future. We must use every opportunity to get the people running for office to go on the record as supporters of our youngest children and take our own voice to the place it matters most: the voting booth. This Tuesday in the primary election and this November in the general election, make sure you know where your candidate stands on high-quality pre-K that will strengthen our education system. If they don’t stand with you, don’t reward them with your vote. The stakes are too high and our children’s future depends on it.
Written by Beth Oppenheimer, the executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.