In one of its most ambitious efforts in recent memory—while tweaking the nose of the Idaho Legislature, which has refused to consider funding for preschool programs for Idaho's youngest citizens—the city of Boise, in conjunction with the Boise School District, is moving forward with a proposal to offer its first pre-K program. The program, which could be rolled out as early as this fall, would be offered to eligible children in Boise's Vista neighborhood as part of the city's Energize our Neighborhoods project.
"We're nesting this in our bigger livability initiative," said Diana Lachiondo, director of community partnerships for the city. "This will be our first program out of the gate."
On Jan. 27, Lachiondo briefed Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and the Boise City Council on what would be called "The City of Boise Early Childhood Project," which would offer pre-K education for 60 income-qualified children. The children would attend three-hour sessions five days a week, with three sessions each for 20 children at Hawthorne Elementary (two sessions) and Whitney Elementary (one session). The first year of the program, including start-up costs, would need $262.000. Ongoing annual costs would be $182,000.
"The investment pays off in so many ways," said Bieter. "The big part of this is to find matching private money and ideally keeping more of our partners at the table."
Therein lies the key of the program's sustainability: private funding from foundations, nonprofits, industry and the school district.
"I would happily be tasked with helping to bring those partners in," said Councilwoman Lauren McLean.
"I'm in," echoed Councilman Ben Quintana.
The proposal received unanimous support to move forward. With funding, it will move fast.
Lachiondo said she'll return to the Council with an update by April. A budget could be set as soon as May, and the school district would begin hiring staff immediately thereafter. Pre-K families would be identified in June and July, and the program could start in August.
"The key question here is, 'What's the city's role in helping to make this happen?' Quite frankly, there hasn't been a state role in this thus far," said Councilwoman Elaine Clegg. "But for us to start small and then verify our success is a pretty great place to start."