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Poll: Early Childhood Education “Safe Issue” for Both Parties


January 11, 2019
Eric Tegethoff
Idaho Public News Service

BOISE, Idaho – Even for a sharply divided Congress, there’s one issue that could prove to be a catalyst for collaboration across the aisle – early childhood education. The sixth annual national poll commissioned by the First Five Years Fund finds strong support from voters in both parties for making early childhood education more accessible.

Idaho’s newly-elected Governor Brad Little has highlighted this issue as well.

Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, says the new poll aligns with a 2017 poll on Idahoans’ opinions about early learning.

“This is a safe issue for policymakers,” says Oppenheimer. “This is a safe issue for our new Legislature coming in. And so, we’re hoping that they will take a look at that, and that our legislators will really be more in line with what the voters of Idaho actually want.”

Idaho is one of six states that doesn’t invest in preschool options for families. In his proposed budget, Little has included doubling funds for early literacy programs in kindergarten through third grade.

Oppenheimer applauds this and says she’d also like to see the state invest in preschool and school readiness.

In the First Five Years poll, only 15 percent believe local programs available to lower- and middle-income families are high-quality and affordable. Oppenheimer says in Idaho, the average cost of preschool for a four-year-old is $6,400, which is often more expensive than college tuition.

She says that puts preschool out of reach for many parents, especially those just beginning their careers.

“What it’s doing is it’s putting a divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’” says Oppenheimer. “And so, families that can afford a high-quality preschool program oftentimes will take advantage of that, but it leaves our low-income families without those opportunities and without that access.”

The poll found support for many policy remedies. More than 80 percent support tax incentives to businesses to make early education more affordable, increased federal funding to states and for the child-care tax credit, and more funding for Head Start and Early Head Start.