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Build Back Better Act Could Provide Universal Pre-K to ID


Thursday, November 11, 2021   

BOISE, Idaho -- The Build Back Better Act could provide universal pre-K to states, including those such as Idaho that currently don't fund school before kindergarten.

Idaho is one of six states that don't. As the bill is written now, the federal government would cover 100% of school costs for three and four-year-olds until 2025, when states would gradually be required to match funds.

Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, said states would have the option to say no.

"In Idaho, that obviously remains to be seen in regards to if the state will choose to opt out or if the state will choose to participate in this program," Oppenheimer noted.

Under the current proposal, states would put forth plans on how they would use funding. Oppenheimer pointed out the funding could go to a variety of options, including public and private programs and Head Start. The Build Back Better Act could get a vote next week.

The early childhood initiative, which totals nearly $400 billion over six years, also includes provisions to improve the quality and affordability of child care.

Oppenheimer stressed child care and preschool complement each other and pointed out child care plays an especially important role in Idaho.

"Let's remember that the state does not have a state pre-K system, and so child care is serving as our pre-K system in this state," Oppenheimer observed.

Oppenheimer also emphasized how important child care is for the economy. Low pay in the industry has made it hard to compete for workers, leading to shortages and costs many families cannot afford.

She added the low pay also makes it hard for child-care workers to afford things such as housing; already hard to find in places like Boise.

"All of these pieces of this puzzle create this inability to be able to hire and retain a workforce that is built and designed to support other workforces," Oppenheimer explained.

The goal of the early childhood initiative is to subsidize child care, so no family is spending more than 7% of its annual income on care.

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