Boise, ID.  –  Preschool is a priority for an overwhelming majority of Idahoans, according to new poll. On Wednesday, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children and other early-education advocates presented survey results from Gem State voters and parents in Boise.

Erik Iverson heads Moore Information, the research firm that conducted the survey. He said one key takeaway is that Idahoans value quality, affordable early childhood education for its ability to prepare kids for kindergarten, and ultimately, life.

According to the poll, 76 percent of voters and 80 percent of parents say the state should be investing in preschool.

“It’s something that, really, people feel strong about,” Iverson said. “There’s passion about it because of the importance and what they know will be the long-term benefits not only to the children, but the state, in and of itself.”

Idaho is one of six states that that doesn’t invest state funds in preschool programs, and the survey said parents and voters are dissatisfied with early-education options as they stand now.

Only 22 percent of voters rated the quality of options as “excellent.” And only about 1-in-3 said most Idaho preschool programs were “affordable for most Idahaoans.”

At Wednesday’s news conference, a kindergarten teacher spoke about the growing number of children coming in to her classroom without critical skills for learning, and pediatrician Noreen Womack noted the early years of a child’s life are critical for brain development.

Beth Oppenheimer, who heads the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, said in addition to learning, early education helps build key social and emotional skills. She said this survey shows Idahoans are ready for legislators to support early education.

“Idahoans really understand that too many of our kids are not starting kindergarten ready, and that this is something that our voters and our parents want,” Oppenheimer said. “And this is a really safe issue for our policymakers.”

Idaho’s legislative session began this week.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service