We’re working with communities across Idaho to increase access to high-quality, affordable preschool. 

Preschool the Idaho Way is a project of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing Idaho’s early learning profession and advocating for children and families.

Idaho is one of only four states that does not currently invest in public preschool options. Many families cannot afford or access early learning opportunities for their children. As a result, Idaho’s children are falling behind in school. Only 51% enter kindergarten with grade-level reading skills. Many cannot hold a pencil, use scissors or recognize their name. Performance in higher grades is also of concern: 65% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 66% of eighth graders are not proficient in math.

Preschool the Idaho Way launched in October 2018 with a mission to help more families access high-quality, affordable early learning opportunities. To achieve this, Idaho AEYC is working directly with communities to create local preschool collaboratives.

What is a preschool collaborative?

Preschool collaboratives bring together important stakeholders – such as city and school leaders, parents, teachers and local businesses – who want to see high-quality preschool opportunities for families in their community. The goal is to build partnerships among existing local experts in early childhood education, including programs such as Head Start, in-home and center-based child care providers, faith-based organizations and school districts. By pooling resources such as space, transportation and personnel, collaboratives can offer affordable, comprehensive early learning opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to many families.

 This collaborative model has been successful across the country and is already utilized in several Idaho communities, including the Caldwell School District; the Basin School District, which includes Idaho City; and the Kendrick Joint School District, which includes Juliaetta.

What does support from Preschool the Idaho Way look like?

Preschool the Idaho Way has released an in-depth toolkit that guides communities and individuals through the process of creating local early learning collaboratives and developing quality preschool opportunities. The approach outlined in the toolkit is designed to utilize the unique dynamics of each community. This is about local solutions, not a one-size-fits-all approach.

To support the planning phase outlined in the toolkit, Idaho AEYC has awarded grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 to 14 communities across the state. The grants will support the development of an actionable plan to create, expand or enhance a community’s preschool programs for children ages 4 to 5.

In fall 2019, Idaho AEYC will offer implementation grants to assist communities as they put their plans into action.

Why does this matter?

The early years are critical to a child’s development. In fact, research shows that if a young child doesn’t have the right kinds of interactions in the first few years of life, the brain doesn’t build itself properly. When young children learn through play and have stable, interactive relationships with adults, they build the social and emotional skills needed to succeed throughout life.

Every $1 invested in high-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. Children who have access to quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, continue with higher education and have more 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. In fact, many states use the number of children completing preschool to predict the number of prison cells that need to be built.

Recent polling indicates that support for state investment in early childhood education is strong among Idahoans. A 2017 poll conducted by the public opinion research firm Moore Information for Idaho AEYC found that nearly 7 in 10 voters and parents of children age 5 or younger 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. Even higher percentages – 76% of voters and 80% of parents – said they support state investments in preschool.

The Boise State School of Public Service’s 2019 public policy survey found that 60.7% of Idaho adults believe state funding for early childhood education should be increased. And 54% said they’d still support increased funding if it meant paying more in taxes. A strong majority – 77% – said they would support increased early childhood education funding to give local school districts the flexibility to fund programs designed to ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade.