Stephen Hartgen

Another school year is underway across Idaho and some youngsters are going to school for the first time as kindergartners. It’s a milestone for our beloved children and grandchildren, whose first walks we remember and who now take these first steps into formal learning and the classroom.

For some, it’s a half-day schedule. That’s right for many young ones, whose attention spans are still short. Idaho funds partial-day kindergartens statewide, but some districts have full-day programs, funded by local levies.

Education groups have tried for years to get full-state-paid money; as recently as last fall, the state school board association passed a resolution calling for full state support.

Now, some Democratic legislators are calling for even more; they want the state to fund pre-k schooling and “information” points as well to spread the word on the value of early formal schooling. But these efforts are traditionally liberal positions which aren’t likely to come about anytime soon.

Supporters of increased state funding couch their arguments in the feel-good language of social spenders everywhere. They say parents now have to “fend for themselves” because Idaho is one of “only four states” which doesn’t fund full time kindergarten. 

They also say “studies indicate” that “meaningful investments in childhood education” result in better learning when youngsters enter school. But there’s a lot of literature showing young children do best in home-based environments rather than in “socialized” pre-schools. It’s a point not usually mentioned by liberal proponents who want a “European” style structure for all.

These proponents also cite broader economic benefits, such as the hiring of more teachers which promotes “economic stability…so we can have highly-skilled workers to fill the thousands of jobs that remain vacant every year in Idaho.”

What they’re really advocating is expansion of government schooling, pushing it down to even earlier ages and thus laying the costs on “society,” which means you and me.

Not a word about how all this is paid for, but the answer is obvious: higher state spending means higher taxes, which comes from only one place: your wallets.

Nor is there any mention of the considerable research which shows that children who aren’t pushed into yet another government program at this tender age do just as well when they enter first grade at age six, and who thus have had the added benefit of an early, nurturing non-government start in life. It’s anathema to these social do-gooders that children actually do just fine without such regimentation,

Opposition to funding full-time kindergarten as well as pre-k programs for 4-year-olds is deeply rooted in Idaho conservative circles, both social and political, and for substantial reasons.

Liberals paint this opposition mostly in political terms, but realistically, the programs are enormously expensive to launch and maintain, in the order of tens of millions of dollars more in state funding and higher taxes. Even education advocates like the State School Boards Association acknowledge the potential costs.

Then there’s the “nurturing environment” argument.  Proponents don’t put it this way exactly, but rousting young children off to schools at these ages is often seen as a form of liberal social indoctrination, not wholly different from China or other authoritarian countries.  

And then, there’s the politics. These programs are often proposed by Ds and the media, who often began school this way and to whom regimented social thought is now the common narrative.

But nothing fires up Idaho conservatives like the mental picture of little kids being led in a “we are family” or a kumbaya, “it takes a village” Hillary Clinton song.

You don’t have to be a social conservative to see the inherent “brain-cultivating” in such regimentation. Perhaps that’s why so many parents look for educational alternatives, including home day care and private facilities; these, by the way, would be destroyed as an industry by a cheap, government-funded expansion that proponents envision. In short, it would be a government “day care” service, not unlike what is found throughout socialist Europe.

Idaho has better alternatives available than the government-regimented program suggested by liberals here. At a summer conference in June, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) heard from American Enterprise Institute scholar Dr. Katherine Stevens, who’s well versed in promising early-schooling alternatives. Here’s some of what she says in an earlier AEI interview:

“…Our society is really getting to a place of understanding something we’ve forgotten for a while: how important babies and toddlers are and how important it is that we, as a society, take care of them as a priority above almost anything. I see that commitment shown in a lot of states in terms of their advocacy for pre-k programs, but what I’m also seeing is states starting to realize that sending children into school when they’re four instead of when they’re five is not going to be the game-changer for a lot of children that they and, frankly the future of the state, need.” (See

One example she cites is a Minnesota program in which businesses support “Early Learning Scholarships” whereby low-income parent parents can access quality care for their pre-school children, say in a church setting. See Church setting? that’ anathema as well to free-spirit, ditch-religion liberals. Religious values? Who needs those?

Stevens’ presentation at the IACI was among the best received by many attendees, including many legislators. Idaho businesses generally, Idaho Republicans particularly, support prudent, cost-effective ways of improving education at all levels. A shout-out to IACI for seeing the potential in this business-driven approach.

What we don’t need is another layer of government-structured, government-funded “schooling” for Idaho youngsters. Liberal Boise Ds can yammer all they want, but the proposals for pre-k, full-day kindergartens, day-care-for-all kiddies isn’t going anywhere.

(Correction: In an earlier column on improving forest management (Aug. 5), I misstated the potential board feet of lumber from a dense stand of trees. The correct estimate is over 27 thousand board feet per acre.)

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.”  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..