Sunday, September 7, 2008

Making Children a Public Policy Priority

Last Thursday, I attended Idaho Voices for Children's Early Learning Forum: The Economics of Investing Early. IVC is a statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to develop and promote a state-level unified policy agenda that targets child health, education, safety, and family economic security.

We learned about what they're doing in Utah (which seems far more pragmatic and progressive in its approach to early childhood ed), some of the latest KidsCount statistics (which underscored the obvious and overwhelming need for quality childcare in the state), and were treated to an interesting conversation about legislative possibilities (or lack thereof) with Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise) and Rep. Mack Shirley (R-Rexburg).

It's been shown for every $1 we spend on education, $17 are returned to society. Yet, as a state and a country, our public investment in children only starts to increase well after most of their brain formation is complete. And in Idaho, it's even more grim (see below). I'm left once again wondering why our own state government allows extremist ideology to trump common sense and fiscal responsibility, particularly given where we stand in relation to the rest of the country.

* 41 states in the US offer public pre-K educational programs (including the District of Columbia).
* The US Conference of Mayors passed Resolution #36 to advance “Quality Pre-K for All.”
* Business Week magazine called preschool education one of its “25 Ideas For A Changing World.”
* Early education is a bipartisan issue with wide support from governors, mayors, legislators and business leaders across the nation.

* Idaho is one of only ten states in the nation without a public pre-K education program.
* Idaho provides no state funding for Head Start. Approximately 20% of eligible children receive Head Start services.
* Idaho has no state policy which provides for school readiness assessment.
* 30% of Idaho 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in preschool programs compared to 45% nationally.
* 5% of kindergarten students attend full-day kindergarten compared to 63% nationally.

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