Idaho AEYC launches statewide preschool accessibility project

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The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children on Wednesday launched Preschool the Idaho Way, a new project that aims to develop high-quality, affordable preschool opportunities for families by equipping Idahoans with the tools and resources they need to create local solutions.

Preschool the Idaho Way will focus on forming local early learning collaboratives across the state by working with community-based programs such as Head Start, in-home and center-based child care providers, faith-based organizations, school districts and other stakeholders. These collaboratives can pool resources to address challenges and meet the comprehensive needs of children and their families.

 “A local preschool collaborative brings together important decision-makers and voices – from mayors and school boards to parents, local businesses and teachers – united by the common goal of bringing high-quality preschool to their community,” said Idaho AEYC Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer. “Developing these collaboratives and increasing the opportunity for early learning is an important step toward Idaho AEYC’s vision of a world where all children thrive.”

Idaho AEYC has received a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to fund the statewide, two-year effort. It is collaborating with Idaho Business for Education, Idaho Head Start Association, Idaho Voices for Children, Lee Pesky Learning Center and United Way of Southeastern Idaho on the Preschool the Idaho Way project.

As part of the Preschool the Idaho Way launch, Idaho AEYC released an in-depth toolkit that guides communities and individuals through the process of creating a collaborative and developing high-quality local preschool. Idaho AEYC studied collaboratives that have already formed in communities across the state, including the Caldwell School District; the Basin School District, which includes Idaho City; the Kendrick Joint School District, which includes Juliaetta; and The Pre-K Project in the Boise School District.

Idaho is one of only five states in the country that does not currently invest in public preschool options for families. Too many Idaho children enter school without the ability to hold a pencil, use a pair of scissors or recognize their name. Almost half cannot identify more than 11 letters in the alphabet, making Idaho last in the country for this kindergarten readiness benchmark. Performance in higher grades is also of concern: 65 percent of Idaho fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 66 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math.   

“My experience has shown that families who can afford to send their child to a quality preschool program usually choose to do so,” said Alyssa Townsend, a kindergarten teacher in the Kuna School District. “Unfortunately, many do not have access to or cannot afford high-quality preschool. This is especially true in Idaho’s rural communities. This creates a snowballing achievement gap from day one and unfairly challenges kindergarten and early elementary school teachers to ‘fix’ the problem on their own.”

Research shows that the more states invest in preschool-age children, the more they give back later in life. Children who have access to quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, continue with higher education and have higher earning ability. They are less likely to engage in criminal activity and therefore less likely to be a cost to the state correctional system later in life. Every $1 invested in quality, affordable preschool education saves taxpayers $7 to $13 in public education costs because children are less likely to repeat grades or require special education services.

Idaho voters and parents believe the state should be doing more to support preschool opportunities, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the public opinion research firm Moore Information. It found that seven in ten Idaho voters and parents believe the state should be doing more to ensure that children begin kindergarten with the knowledge and skills they need to do their best in school. Seventy-six percent of voters support state investments in preschool.