DATE: February 25, 2006
FROM: Idaho Coalition of Home Educators

      In response to a huge volume of messages, House Bill 623 was narrowly defeated in the House Education Committee on Wednesday morning by a vote of 9-8. This bill has been stopped for this year. At the conclusion of the vote, the bill's sponsor, Representative Janna Kemp particularly thanked ICHE for giving her "the game plan to prepare for next year" in bringing the bill back. This is not an issue on which the supporters of public pre-schooling are going to give up easily. If we grow weary of the race, we will lose our freedom on the last lap.
      The Senate Education Committee then met on Wednesday afternoon to hear testimony on Senate Bills 1344 and 1241. The supporters of these bills to lower the ages of children that could be enrolled in public schools as far as infancy were well-coordinated. Both professional educators and industry leaders spoke passionately about how important it is to enroll our children in pre-kindergarten and preschool programs so that they can compete in the global community. Approximately 20 people representing large business interests or governmental programs spoke in support of the bills. Three spoke against them.
      Steven Thane of Reclaim Idaho spoke persuasively of the cost of such programs in terms of eroded parent-child relationships. ICHE presented evidence that such programs yield only a short-term increase in academic achievement. In the long run, students who attend preschool are academically indistinguishable from those that do not.
      At the end of two hours of testimony and questioning of the speakers, the committee debated the bills briefly. The motion to send SB1241 to the Senate floor failed for lack of a second. On a vote of 5 to 4, the committee also declined to send SB1344 to the full Senate.
      The closeness of the committee votes makes it clear that defeating the remaining two bills will be an uphill battle. The strength of the debate on both sides underscores the clash of ideologies concerning the rightful scope of government in education. Dr. Barr, one of the BSU professors who authored the "Missing Children" study, gave lengthy testimony declaring that poor children in particular benefit from early childhood education programs more than from being with their own parents. In response to this, Senator Fulcher posed the question, "What, then, is the purpose of parents?" Dr. Barr seemed unable to answer this.
      When asked when they would like to see compulsory education begin, both Representative Kemp and the Idaho Education Association (IEA) President indicated as low as "age five," instead of the current requirement of age seven.
      Several legislators debated persuasively in favor of limiting the extent of government by leaving the "safety net" of voluntary kindergarten unchanged. Representative Neilson remarked that by deleting the references to voluntary kindergarten, "we are saying a different intent than we used to say, and that intent could be followed by adverse rules. Kindergarten has validated itself already by most parents wanting to do it voluntarily, and that's the American way. I see no reason why the state should step in by saying, 'Thou shalt,' or even change the intent by one little bit."
      This clash of ideologies will surface two more times this session. The two early childhood education bills that have yet to be heard are sponsored by members of the Senate Education Committee. They are:

  1. Senate Bill 1253 (Senator Schroeder): Instead of merely permitting public schools to offer kindergarten programs, this bill would now require that they do so.
  2. Senate Bill 1381 (Senators Burkett & Marley): Introduces the infrastructure for a massive new governmental program of early childhood education, initially for those 4 years of age or older.

      ICHE will continue to monitor all of these bills. As the session progresses from here, bills will move quickly and our lead time can be as short as overnight for your response to your legislators. Please continue to watch for, and immediately respond to, future Alerts.       Thank you for your tremendous response which has been critical in stopping these bills at the committee level.       To join ICHE and receive email Alerts, go to www.iche-idaho.org.

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