In hailing a pre-K pilot bill as a “no-brainer,” Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney ran through some numbers Monday.
Communities that have robust pre-K programs have lower crime rates, to the tune of 20 percent. If that savings could be replicated across Idaho, Raney said at a news conference, the savings for taxpayers could come to $30 million to $50 million.
Supporters of pre-K tout early education as a long-term investment in children and communities. The benefits will not accrue overnight, as Treasure Valley Family YMCA President Jim Everett said Monday; it would take years to see savings in the corrections system.
But supporters turned out in force Monday to throw their support behind Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, who has authored a bill to pilot pre-K programs in five Idaho school districts over three years. The idea is to put $600,000 of state money into the pilots, match it with $750,000 of private funding, and give Idahoans a sense of how early education works in their communities.
Three years isn’t much time to provide much evidence of long-term savings — and five schools is a decidedly small sample size. But it’s hardly a surprise that Kloc and his allies are starting by trying to take a pre-K baby step. The Legislature has been rough on previous pre-K programs, with opponents saying young children are best taught at home.
Lawmakers have also questioned whether the state can afford to assume funding for another year of school. And even though Kloc’s bill has a modest price tag, two key House Republicans didn’t seem inclined to incur the cost.
House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt predicted the Legislature will focus its dollars on the recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force — a group that was silent on pre-K, but issued some $350 million worth of recommendations for K-12.
“The data is clear that pre-K efforts are negligible if the elementary system is not firing on all cylinders,” DeMordaunt, an Eagle Republican and task force member, told Idaho Education News on Monday.
House Speaker Scott Bedke voiced similar reservations Monday.
“I’ll have a hard time supporting an expansion of the education system when I’m told we’re not adequately funding what we have,” Bedke told Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review Monday. “The task force didn’t elevate this, and they could have.”
It is early in the legislative process, but the talking points on pre-K seem to be taking shape — and it’s a debate over where best to focus long-term educational investment.