By Beth Oppenheimer | Opinion on Idaho Statesman
Last year, Idaho was the recipient a $6 million annual grant for three years with a focus to improve Idaho’s early childhood education system. This grant was a follow-on to a previously successfully administered grant that allowed local communities to set up their own strategic plans related to early learning. U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch were strong proponents of the grant because it would have directly benefitted Idaho communities.
Instead of appropriating those dollars, which would have gone to support Idaho communities in their early childhood education efforts, the Idaho legislature made the disturbing decision to table the grant due to lies about how and where these important funds would be used. This action — or inaction — left our communities across the state with few resources to provide critical services so needed by families.
The 2021 legislative session shined an unsettling light on the intentions of some of our elected officials in Idaho. Certain legislators seem to have forgotten that their role is to represent the will of the people, and instead use their public platform as a soapbox to spread fear and falsehoods. These fear traders are using their public position to influence — one might even say campaign — rather than to represent. Unfortunately, the organization I have run for more than a decade, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, has been the scapegoat for this dangerous narrative.
Idaho AEYC has been active in Idaho for over 20 years serving as a resource for parents, early learning professionals and policymakers. We are a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality and access to child care and raise awareness about the importance of early education.
Idaho AEYC spearheaded the application of the $6 million grant, and I am extraordinarily proud of the work we do. Despite being in the crosshairs of ideologies created for the sole purpose of self-promotion, Idaho AEYC has been able to continue our important work through providing resources and assistance to communities to build their own Early Learning Collaboratives, offering multilingual training opportunities for early childhood educators in Idaho and helping families find quality programming that works best for their needs.
We expect our elected officials to represent the constituents in their districts, not parrot fringe group ideologies. We expect when an issue or opportunity arises, they will do the work to learn more from the people they represent.
As we go into the session ready to weather another round of baseless attacks on our organization, we are offering an olive branch to everyone except those using their platform to spread lies. We implore the Idaho legislature to find out what is going on with early education and child care in Idaho. There is a lot. We are facing a child care system on the very brink of collapse. Children, families and care providers across the state are in deep crisis.
To solve this, it is going to take a genuine effort and support from lawmakers. We hope that when it comes time to cut through the noise, that they will reach out in good faith. The most important thing that we will do is connect policymakers with their own constituents that are trying to solve problems.
Our elected officials can join their efforts, their meetings, and see their programs with their own eyes. By the good grace of the hard-working educators and families in these communities, what they’ll find is there is young children learning to recognize sounds, colors and shapes, observing their surroundings and exploring their curiosity. They’ll see children learning how to read.
What they won’t find is children five and younger learning complex theory and philosophy concepts like critical race theory or social justice.
Idaho AEYC has felt the ire of some legislators who continue to mischaracterize what we do to serve their narrative; but we have also felt the support of communities large and small across the state.
From parents of young children to early childhood educators — there is power in numbers and the truth is, more people in Idaho have taken time to learn about what we do than certain state leaders who were elected to represent them.
As more reach out and seek to understand what it is we actually do, we can drown out the misinformation and help more of Idaho’s children prepare for the future.