BOISE, Idaho — Lawmakers will soon discuss options for full-day kindergarten in Idaho school districts through two new pieces of legislation.
The bills, sponsored by Republican Sen. Carl Crabtree from Grangeville, were approved for a full hearing on Monday.
Free, full-day kindergarten has been a hot topic among lawmakers for years. However, with the state reporting a record $1.6 billion budget surplus, some believe 2022 could be the session to pass kindergarten-related legislation.
The availability of free, full-day kindergarten in Idaho is limited. According to a report by Bluum, an Idaho nonprofit education organization, only 184 schools offered some form of full-day kindergarten. In the same study, Bluum stated that 162 schools provide part-day kindergarten, and 71 have a hybrid full and part-day program.
Recently, Idaho Falls and Boise School District announced plans to provide free, full-day kindergarten during the 2022-23 school year.
Related: Twin Falls Public Library program prepares children for kindergarten
Currently, kindergarten is optional in Idaho, and the state only funds half-day kindergarten programs. Idaho is one of nine states with no district requirements to offer kindergarten.
In January, House Minority leader Ilana Rubel told Idaho News 6education funding and property tax relief were top priorities for state democrats.
“Education funding, and not for just full-day kindergarten, but trying to pick Idaho out of last place as everybody knows we are bottom in America in education funding. We need to fix our own schools and that is going to be a very top priority for us as well as delivering property tax relief to those who need it,” Rubel said.
Over the summer, the State Board of Education endorsed funding for full-day kindergarten. In her budget request to lawmakers, State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra outlined a $39 million plan to make full-day kindergarten available for at-risk students in January.
During the State of the State address, Gov. Brad Little outlined his budget requests – including $47 million of ongoing investments in literacy programs. According to Little, school districts could use the funding “to deliver local solutions” like all-day kindergarten.
Related: Gov. Brad Little speaks on budget proposals in Twin Falls
In Bluum’s report, the nonprofit found that children enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs scored higher on the Idaho Reading Indicator test than those with no kindergarten education.
“With only 42% of Idaho kindergartners scoring at or above grade level on the statewide reading assessment in fall 2020, we clearly need more and better early education,” the Bluum study says.
Related: State looks to help families with learning loss
According to Boise State University’s annual Idaho Public Policy Survey, over 60% of Gem State residents “strongly support funding full-day kindergarten” — regardless of political affiliation.