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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gary Crooks: Old-school meets preschool in Idaho

Ever since Idaho adopted kindergarten 39 years ago, it’s been voluntary. But somehow the specter of a measly five preschool classes being partially publicly funded for three years has some politicians worried about the state confiscating toddlers during the day.

Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, wants to start a pre-kindergarten pilot program, but his plan is being met with old-school thinking.

“This is a step removing the children from the household,” said state Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.

Attendance would be voluntary. Then again, Barbieri does represent some constituents who successfully rescued their high school students from an international baccalaureate program, which was also voluntary. The Coeur d’Alene School District offered it as part of its “schools of choice” program, but some folks thought the IB program was part of a United Nations plot to undermine U.S. sovereignty, so they made sure it was stamped out for all.

Regarding preschools, Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “I’m not in favor of starting kids any earlier. Each kid is individual, and each parent is individual, and they need to decide what the kids need.”

But good luck if the answer is a public preschool.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said preschools “allow parents to disengage rather than engage.” And like many other opponents, he believes parents or relatives can handle it just fine.

But the numbers are not on his side. Only one in 10 Idaho ninth-graders goes on to get a college degree, which places the state last in the nation. This increases the risk that the next generation of children won’t get a diploma, because their parents didn’t.

Said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children: “Today in Idaho, over half of our children are not ready or prepared to enter kindergarten or first grade.”

A high-quality preschool program is the best single investment a state can make to break this cycle.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he’s concerned about opening preschool classes “when I’m told we’re not adequately funding what we have.” He’s referring to a study group that came up with 20 proposals for improving education, none of which included preschool.

But this is like spending more on mops and buckets, instead of replacing a leaky pipe. And, yes, the educational system has been dripping for a long time, because too many politicians refuse to read or accept the studies on early learning that show what a fantastic investment it can be. Not only great for the kids, but great for budget writers tired of spending so much on remedial education and prisons.

To repeat, preschool would be voluntary, just like kindergarten has been for nearly 40 years. Feel it’s just not right for your kids? Don’t send them. But don’t make that choice for other parents.

Disproportionate coverage. Nearly 80 percent of the approximately 70,000 Washingtonians who have purchased private health insurance on the state exchange earn less than $35,000 a year for an individual and $70,000 for a family of four, according to the latest figures from Washington Healthplanfinder. Roughly speaking, that was the target audience for the Basic Health Plan, which covered many working Washingtonians before the Affordable Care Act came along.

About 70,000 people were kicked off Basic Health in recent years due to budget-cutting in Olympia. Oddly, the plight of these people didn’t garner the same attention as those who have had to switch – but not lose – coverage under Obamacare.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.
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