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Bill to fund preschool programs leaves parents, lawmakers divided

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Mar 4th, 2013 @ 6:21pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to fund preschool education for disadvantaged families is receiving mixed feelings from lawmakers and parents. Supporters said it's crucial for kids to enter kindergarten prepared, but opponents said the state can't afford the program.

Bill 71 would give disadvantaged families the option of starting their children's education early by giving them funding for preschool classes. Studies have shown that preschool significantly advances students and prepares them for kindergarten.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said the real value of preschool is the ability to detect special needs students and language barriers early. Osmand said that recognizing those challenges and meeting them early can potentially save the state money in the form of Special Ed Support.

Samantha Watson talked about her family's experience with preschool and how it significantly helped her daughter to ease into kindergarten without learning problems.

"Now that she's in a second year of preschool, it's exponentially changed in the better," said Watson, mother of 5-year-old Bailey. "She's doing so good this year in comparison."

Bailey is one of the children in Granite School District's Preschool Services program. Currently, 1,000 children are on a waiting list for preschool because they don't have the funding. Osmond hopes to change that.

"What can we do differently so we can help these kids and help our state?" Osmond said. "That's why I'm so focused on it."

Osmond devised a funding formula to leverage up to $10 million per year for statewide preschool, using $1 million of state money. He said that could reduce the number of students placed in expensive Special Education, which costs at least a half billion dollars a year.

Fewer students in such programs could save about $1,600 per child each year, Osmond said. He said that by the time a student reaches 6th grade, the state would have saved $7 to every $1 invested.

However, several parents and lawmakers are fighting against the bill. Many said they don't like the funding scheme, and that the state can't afford the program. Others said they don't like the idea of starting a trend of children starting school earlier than kindergarten.

"We need and desire families to take care of themselves, but if we keep taxing money away, there has to be a fair accounting for that," said Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Provo. "The more money we tax away from them, the more we take away their options and what they're going to do with their money and their families."

The bill will be eligible for a vote in the Senate Monday afternoon.


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