School Funding

Early Learning in Idaho: A Quick Guide


EdNews associate editor Devin Bodkin writes a regular Monday column to highlight a weekly education issue. Contact him with ideas at [email protected]

Early learning in Idaho was back in the news last week, for better or for worse.

The latest fall reading scores for this year’s first graders – last year’s kindergartens – were better than 2020, despite months of blended and distance learning, masks and hundreds of no. – preschool presentations last school year.

But educators in Idaho are still looking at the impacts of the 2020-21 pandemic on young people. And early learning in Idaho remains a sore point for some.

Children in Idaho “are hit harder” than children in some other states, said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Early Childhood Education Association, who for years has Lobbyed unsuccessfully for full-time preschool and kindergarten options funded by the state of Idaho. children.

For Oppenheimer and others, the impacts of the pandemic only fuel what they see as an already inadequate early learning system.

But how does Idaho fare nationally in terms of state offerings? And what would it take to bring these services to children?

Let’s start with what Idaho does – and doesn’t do – in kindergarten.

Kindergarten remains optional here, a fact that may have influenced the drop in enrollment of 813 students last year in the state group amid a COVID-19 outbreak in 2020-21. Parents in Idaho can home-school their kindergarten children, skip the school year altogether, or retain their children for one year.

When – and if – kindergartens register, their postcode largely determines what they have access to. The Legislature allocates funds for half-day options in public schools. If districts want full-time programs, they have to cover them through local supplemental funds, fees, or both.

Most offer this option, EdNews reported earlier this year. But early learning advocates like Oppenheimer say the fairest solution is publicly funded full-day options for everyone.

A mix of states is already doing this. Idaho is one of eight states that do not require preschool, according to State Education Commission. At least 17, plus the District of Columbia, require it all day.

There is a lot of support from top state leaders, including Governor Brad Little. But funding for a full day of pre-K means support from the conservative Idaho legislature, which has resisted it for years.

A wave of renewed interest in the topic ahead of the 2022 legislative session doesn’t mean change happens easily or quickly, writes Kevin Richert, senior reporter for EdNews.

Then there is the matter of the state-funded preschool, which Idaho devotes no money to. Forty-four states, plus the District of Columbia, fund pre-K, ECS programs said. Idaho isn’t one of them, but that doesn’t mean families in some communities don’t have free access because of the work of advocates like the Oppenheimer organization.

Since 2019, 15 municipalities, Pocatello in Coeur d’Alene, participate in IAEYC’s “collaborative early learningWhich inspires school districts, local organizations, business leaders, child care providers, community leaders and stakeholders to create and deliver free school readiness programs.

It’s not a state-funded pre-K, Oppenheimer admits, but it’s a start.

As with full-time kindergartens, public funds for pre-kindergarten would require changes from the legislature.

If the last few years are any indicator, it might take some time for this to happen.

  • In 2019, the State Department of Education missed a game of more than $ 241 million in federal grants designed to aid in the planning of preschool programs. Idaho did not apply because the legislature did not allow the SDE to spend money on pre-K programs.
  • Following a long and heated debate, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 36-34 in the last legislative session against what would have allowed $ 6 million in pre-K federal funds to flow to Idaho.

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews associate editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students living in poverty. He lives and works in eastern Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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