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Why do Idaho, five other states spend nothing on preschool? Political and family culture

March 16, 2017
Lillian Mongeau
Idaho Statesman

In 1864, the tiny town of Idaho City was the biggest American settlement in the state. Now, with the gold rush long over, the logging industry nearly collapsed and few good jobs left in the area, the local K-12 school graduates fewer than 35 students a year.

Nevertheless, since 1999, every 4-year-old in town has been offered an option most in Idaho don’t get: a spot in a free, public preschool program.

“Preschool can be a great resource in rural communities,” said John McFarlane, the district superintendent who doubles as the seventh- through 12th-grade principal. “We can’t go to the museum; we can’t go to the Discovery Center. We don’t have licensed day care. We don’t want to assign (our kids) to a rural life for their whole life if they want something else.”

Initially, the 352-student district covered the preschool program, as well as a parent education program, with private funding from philanthropists. When that ran out, the district used federal money that comes in lieu of taxes on the national forests that surrounds Idaho City. That money from the Secure Rural Schools Act proved anything but secure, with less money from Congress every year since 2008.