BOISE -- Lawmakers and community leaders assembled today to lend their support to getting more Idaho kids in pre-school. They say a new bill would help Idaho students, help Idaho business, and help drive down crime.

The bill was introduced Monday morning, and Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, CEO of the United Way of Treasure Valley Nora Carpenter, and Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg, all called it a no-brainer.

The bill's two main proponents, Rep. Hancey and Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, were joined at the press conference by other Democratic lawmakers, a group of community leaders, and a few pre-schoolers.

Idaho's future will be brighter if we can come together and agree to prioritize pre-K through career, said Kloc.

The bill would create a pilot program for a state and private-funded pre-kingergarten program. We're not trying to overhaul the whole educational system. This is for a pilot program to collect data, said Kloc.

The pilot program would last three years, funding pre-K programs in five Idaho schools. Idaho is one of just nine states without a state-funded pre-kindergarten program.

Beth Oppenheimer is the Executive Director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. We owe it to our youngest children to make sure that they have the opportunity to begin school, ready to learn, putting our children on a path to success in school and in life.

Supporters say pre-kindergarten programs help kids get a head start on their education, and more of them go on to higher education, which would give Idaho a better-educated and better prepared workforce.

We can give this strength of knowing that I can do this, I can go forward in my education to our children, it's worth every penny, said Hancey.

Raney says in areas with strong pre-K programs there are 20 percent fewer felony arrests. He says that would save taxpayers $30 to $50 million a year, easily off-setting the cost of the program if it's adopted statewide. We're investing early in education and compounding the savings of life success.

But, there has been criticism of pre-K before that Idahoans don't want the state raising their kids. Supporters like Jim Everett, CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA, disagree with that criticism. It is a partnership with parents. It is not the state raising the kids. It's teachers working with parents.

Again, this is a pilot program, costing about $1.4 million. The main goal is to get Idaho-specific data on the benefits of pre-K education to make a better pitch for taking pre-K statewide. Every Democrat seems behind this. But the task is for Rep. Hancey to get enough of his fellow Republicans on board to get this passed. It's been tried before and failed.

Because it's a pilot program and because the cost is shared, I think we have a stronger idea to present forward to our legislators than perhaps in previous years, said Hancey. So we're excited. We hope we can do this, but we're not going to be defeated by one year.

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