Warren Barnes teaches music at Basin Elementary and Idaho City High School. Barnes works with this preschool class during his prep period. (Credit: Emilie Ritter Saunders)
This story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered March 12, 2015.
The Basin School District in Idaho City has something most districts in the state don’t, preschool.
On Wednesdays, 12 preschoolers leave their small house-turned-school and walk across the playground to the high school’s music room. The children sit cross-legged in a circle and the music teacher hands out two brightly-colored sticks to each student. Music class for these preschoolers is all about rhythm, following directions, and giggling.
Idaho doesn’t have public preschool, and schools that want to offer it, have to find creative ways to pay for the program. State money isn’t an option.
Over the last 15 years, the Basin School District has paid for their unique preschool program with a grant, a voter-approved levy, some tuition, fundraisers, and federal Secure Rural Schools act money.
“I don’t know how the program could be reduced any more than it already is,” says teacher Mary Allen. “It’s already only two days a week.”
Basin’s entire budget is about $3 million. It’s taking a double hit because its levy funds runs out next year and it’ll lose Secure Rural Schools Act money.
Congress has allowed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to expire. Rural counties across the country now have $250 million less to work with.