BOISE -- Education advocates gathered at the Statehouse Wednesday to ask legislators to invest in early education programs for Idaho's youngest students.

According to a statewide survey presented by the Idaho Association For the Education of Young Children, 75 percent of respondents said they would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to send their children to public preschool if it were available in their community.

Idaho is one of only six states that invests no state money into early childhood education. Advocates warn that children across the state in communities that lack access to preschool education are falling behind.

Even in areas where preschool is offered, more than half of those surveyed indicated those programs were average or below average.

Idaho AEYC Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer said the "vast majority" of those surveyed believe that the state should take a role investing in early education.

“We know that the early years are the most important of a child’s life, we know if we can have those children in an environment that will help those children build a foundational skills when they start kindergarten on that first day, they are ready to go,” she said.

Students who do not attend preschool enter grade school with inferior skills - and may send years playing catch-up, advocates say.

Oppenheimer said she hopes lawmakers recognize their constituents' concerns, and push preschool investment forward to a hearing this session. In the long term, her group hopes to see public preschool available all across Idaho.