Why One Idaho Lawmaker Wants To Pilot Public Preschool

Nov 19, 2013

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds more than two thirds of low income Idaho kids don’t go to preschool. But as we’ve reported before, two thirds of Idaho kids from high income families do go to preschool. That’s not surprising since Idaho is one of only a handful of states that does not have statewide, state-funded preschool.

Kloc is in the middle of his first term as an Idaho legislator.
Credit Courtesy: Hy Kloc

Now, one lawmaker wants to change that. State Representative Hy Kloc (D-Boise) has written legislation he plans to introduce next year to create a pilot pre-k program.

Idaho lawmakers have tried to create state preschool before without success. Kloc, who used to work for Boise State Public Radio, says that research about the return on investment for public preschool should convince the most conservative critics.

“For every dollar put into a preschool program, society sees a savings of between $3.50 and $17,” Kloc says. “The incarceration rate is much lower for people who go to preschool than not. The teen pregnancy rate is much lower for people who attend preschool. Now these are all numbers that are based on reports and studies that have been done around the country.”

Idaho lawmakers have heard all that research before. So Kloc is proposing that Idaho do a study of its own. His bill would create a pilot program using state and private money to put about 120 kids through preschool. When they reach third grade, they would take tests to see how they compare academically.

“A number of the arguments I hear -- this study or that report -- these results don’t reflect Idaho,” Kloc says. “My hope is that having results with Idaho students would be enough to convince the naysayers that yes it actually does work. I’m hoping that if we have enough good evidence that we could even convince some of the people who are completely anti preschool. But I’m not holding out a lot of hope for that.”

Evidence can only go so far. Kloc will likely face ideological opposition to a public preschool.

“Some people really feel that government would snatch kids out of the arms of their mom and then brainwash them,” Kloc says. “Well the first thing I tell them is that this is a voluntary program. If people do not want to send their children through this preschool pilot study by no means will they have to. I think it was the same problems, from what I’ve heard, during the seventies when kindergarten was introduced into Idaho. And so kindergarten is still voluntary. But I think there are close to 90 percent of kids that are eligible to go to kindergarten who go to kindergarten.”

Between 2001 and 2010 more than a dozen pro-preschool bills were introduced in Idaho’s Legislature. Some proposals would have created a statewide pre-k system. Others were small changes, for example, a bill introduced more than once would have clarified state code to make it legal for districts to offer preschool on their own without state money. All failed. But Kloc says he’s heartened by the growing attention pre-k is getting nationally.

“It’s all in the timing,” he says. “I guess at that time the majority of legislators were not willing to go along with that. I’m not saying they’re willing to go along with it now, but I’m talking to a number of my colleagues who are not turning me off immediately. They’re discussing what I’m trying to do. I’m hoping that the timing is right for preschool now, but if it isn’t then we’ll keep doing it until it does happen. I think eventually preschool will come to Idaho.”  

Kloc says he can envision nearly every Idaho elementary school offering preschool in 10 years. But to launch even his pre-k pilot, he’ll need help from Republicans who make up the majority of Idaho’s Legislature. He won’t say who is interested, but he hopes to announce soon the names of some Republican co-sponsors.

You can find much more on our in-depth series on preschool in Idaho here.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio