Guest column: Higher ed prep needs to start early

By Kathy Harris

Idaho is one of only five states that doesn’t provide funding for preschool, writes Kathy Harris.

At his 2017 Address, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced education as a top priority. Part of this focus is the creation of a higher education task force in an effort to meet a goal he set to have 60 percent of Idaho’s 25-34 year olds holding a post-secondary degree by 2020. Also as part of this effort, Gov. Otter organized a K-12 task force that met in 2013.

I believe what is missing from the governor’s efforts is a look at early childhood education – particularly in the populations living in poverty that historically do not pursue higher education. According to the Education Commission of the States, as of the 2015-16 fiscal year, Idaho was one of only five states that does not provide funding to Pre-K programs.

The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, initially conducted with subjects aged 3 and 4 from 1962-1967, has identified the short and long term effects of a high quality preschool education program for young children living in poverty. Following those children through to 2005, the study found that those participants, at age 40, had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.

Programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start are vital to make sure that all of Idaho’s children are set on the path to a future that includes opportunities in higher education.

Eastern Idaho has Head Start and Early Head Start programs that are professionally operated through Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership (EICAP).

EICAP Head Start, offered for children ages 3-5, makes school readiness a top priority by preparing children academically, socially and emotionally for future school success. Part of the philosophy at EICAP Head Start is to increase children’s competence in language, literacy, mathematics, science, creative arts, learning strategies, physical health and social/emotional development. It allows the children to become more self-confident, and develop positive relationships with adults and other children.

In addition, EICAP Head Start provides the children with nutrition services by providing healthy meals and snacks – proper nutritional health enhances the ability to learn. Also, health services are provided by assisting with medical and dental needs when a child needs treatment that is not covered by insurance and all other avenues have been exhausted.

EICAP Early Head Start is offered for infants and toddlers up to age 3. It is designed as a “two-generation” program with the goal of promoting healthy parental development as well as a stimulating home environment. It focuses on socialization of infants and toddlers through the relationship with their parents. Socialization provides parents a chance to be in a setting where they can interact with their child, other parents, and qualified staff in order to learn more about their child’s development and develop more as a family.

Gov. Otter and legislators need to make sure all of the children in Idaho are prepared for 1st grade. It is a huge first step in seeing that they are prepared for pursuits in higher education.