Editor's note: This editorial was corrected on Aug. 21. The compulsory age of school attendance in Idaho starts at age 7. While the state Constitution says the Legislature may set it as low as 6, the Legislature has chosen the age of 7, according to statute 33-202.
Starting this school year, families in the Caldwell, Nampa and Vallivue school districts have access to free, full-day kindergarten.
We’re happy to see that development — but sad it’s a new one. In Idaho, we’re still debating funding for kindergarten, while most other states see that as a given and have moved on to focusing on preschool. As recently as spring of 2018, Idaho was one of just four states that didn’t fund pre-K.
The Idaho Constitution calls for the legislature to maintain a “uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” As soon as families have to start paying for full-day kindergarten — which in the West Ada School District, for example, is $300 a month — that “uniform” system of education starts to deteriorate. We see kindergarten as an educational and social advantage that should be available to all Idaho families, no matter their income level.
It doesn’t just benefit those families and students — it benefits all of us. Maybe you don’t have a child in school now, but you will rely on the workforce — the future doctors, lawmakers, teachers, and entrepreneurs — our education system is producing.
Idaho code says starting at age 7, children must be in a public school or another form of schooling. There’s a viewpoint that children before that age should be home learning from their parents. That it works well for some families, but not for all. In Idaho, 57% of children under age 6 are in a household where all available parents work outside the home, according to 2015 Kids Count data. The model of one parent stays home and teachers children until they turn 6 is not always a realistic one.
The challenge here, as with many desired benefits, is it would cost money — potentially $52 million a year. That’s according to an estimate for the 2021 school year from Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho EdNews reports. The association at its 2018 annual conference passed a resolution calling on lawmakers to approve funding for full-day kindergarten, not just the half-day kindergarten that’s currently state-funded.
We applaud the push by Gov. Brad Little for more early literacy funding, which is how local districts are expanding their kindergarten programs. Next, the state needs to prioritize funding free, full-day kindergarten. Not just because the West Ada School District is facing a lawsuit over its full-day fees. But because it’s the right thing to do for Idaho’s students and families — and the outcomes will benefit all of us.
Idaho is lagging behind in this conversation. We don’t want our young students to fall behind as a result.