School district trustees at the Idaho School Boards Association on Friday passed a measure to amend state law to allow school districts to use their existing funding levels to offer kindergarten preparation programs to 4-year-olds, according to a report from IdahoEdNews.
It’s a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Ideally, we’d like to see the state start funding pre-K education to all districts, allowing them flexibility on how to implement a program that best fits their district.
Last week, the Idaho Press reported on the successes that are being seen in the Boise school district, which is partnering with the city of Boise to offer early childhood education to low-income students at Hawthorne and Whitney elementary schools in the Vista neighborhood. Both schools are Title 1 schools, which means 50 percent or more students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs.
Boise Independent School District’s Student Programs Administrator Stacey Roth told the Idaho Press that making pre-K available for students who could otherwise not afford it has boosted achievement. The lack of access to pre-K for low income families means students who have access to early childhood education start kindergarten ahead of students who don’t, which makes it more difficult for students to learn to read.
There are tangible benefits, including improved test scores and higher rates of naming letters and their sounds, but there are also intangible benefits.
Roth said that when there is a discrepancy between students who have had early childhood education and those who have not, teachers are trying to push some students and catch other students up. With a pre-kindergarten program, she said, teachers are able to go further with all of the students and start the reading process earlier. One principal told the Idaho Press that once students began to complete pre-K and enter kindergarten, the teachers for that level had to change lesson plans because students were more prepared for school than previous groups of students. By the end of the year, kindergartners were ready to begin tackling material normally taught in the beginning of first grade, which had never happened before.
Idaho is one of six states that does not invest state funds into preschool and has low pre-K participation rates statewide. Idaho law prohibits school districts from using state funds for early childhood education — something Boise school officials hope to change.
We hope legislators listen to school board trustees and make changes in the upcoming legislative session.
We know what the counter-arguments: This is what parents should be doing. Parents should be reading to their children at home. Parents should be teaching their children how to read and write and identify letters and sounds.
Yes, they should. We agree.
But what happens when they don’t? We don’t think our state legislators should pass new legislation mandating every parent teach their children to read before going to kindergarten.
So the next best thing is to fund pre-K or at least allow school districts the ability to use state funds to offer pre-K.
State legislators heading into the next legislative session would do well to heed the state’s school district trustees.