When you think of America’s western mountain states, what comes to mind? Wide, open spaces? Majestic peaks? Infinite blue skies? Pervasive lack of investment in pre-k?
This sparsely populated region, unique in both its striking landscape and rugged individualist ethos, is not exactly the center of attention when it comes to matters of public policy. So perhaps it is not surprising that while almost all states across the country have moved toward greater investment in pre-k, this region’s resistance to do so has, to a certain degree, escaped scrutiny.
As the body of research confirming the critical importance of a child’s earliest learning experiences has grown, so has political momentum behind investment in publicly funded pre-k. In states both conservative and liberal, rural and urban, pre-k is receiving more attention, more support, and more funding. Indeed, though funding remains severely inadequate on the whole, nearly every state now dedicates at least some state funding to pre-k initiatives—a trend that has been researched, analyzed, and discussed considerably in recent years.
But far less discussed are those states that have bucked this national trend toward investment in pre-k—“those last holdouts,” in the words of President Obama just this week. Five states—Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming—still do not provide any state funding for pre-k, meaning parents must either pay full tuition out of pocket, rely on a scarce supply of federal subsidies, or forego pre-k altogether. And all but one of those five states are clustered in the mountainous west.