Twenty-six states across the country increased their support for early-child education in the past year, according to an Education Commission of the States report due out later this month.
Twenty-two of them were in heavily Republican states, said Bruce Atchison, director of the commission’s Early Learning Institute.
Of course, you can’t count Idaho among them, because the state is one of nine that has refused to put taxpayer money into running pre-school programs. The others are: Arizona, Montana, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
The commission provides non-partisan information to states to help them formulate education policy.
Atchison is in Boise meeting with business and technology groups, talking about what the commission has learned from states that go down the path toward early childhood education. He’s coming as State Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, prepares to introduce legislation next year asking the state to spend about $600,000 to pair with money from businesses to launch a $1.4 million preschool program in five Idaho school districts to study their effectiveness.
Any successful attempt to get state-supported preschool going in Idaho faces two obstacles: Legislators who say early childhood ed is a family affair and not the role of the state; and lawmakers who say if Idaho has additional money for education, it should go to K-12, not preschool.
Those are familiar arguments to Atchison. But he has a response:
Family business: Twenty-five percent of Idaho’s kids are from poor families. Many have parents struggling to make ends meet or don’t have the skills to provide early-childhood training to their kids. Studies show that early-childhood education has the greatest impact on students from low-income homes. “It not the role of government, in my opinion, to take over the role of parents,” Atchison said. “When you have parents that struggle, when you have children who enter kindergarten not ready to learn because they haven’t had the opportunity, then absolutely it is the role of government,” he said. “And because government doesn’t intervene you end up with kids that aren’t reading at third grade because it is too little, too late.”
Money crunch: If you are a for-profit business you are looking for where your best investments are — the highest possible return on investment, Atchison said. You look at the history of the K-12 system and where the money is being spent and see a whole lot of failures: Dismal graduation rates and dismal third-grade reading proficiency rates. You can pay now or pay later, Atchison said.