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SALT LAKE CITY — Students from low-income households often struggle to compete academically with their peers.
They become frustrated, drop out of school and go on to face difficulties related to criminal activity, drugs, health care and employment. In time, they become the parents of a new generation of students from low-income households.
That is the scenario painted by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, whose latest strategy to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty involves providing grants to schools to offer educational opportunities outside of the regular school day for at-risk children.
"It’s costing the state literally hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars trying to eradicate some of those issues attendant with intergenerational poverty and the welfare dependency cycle," Reid said.
Reid's bill, SB43, was unanimously recommended by members of the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The bill has already passed the Senate and now faces a final vote on the House floor prior to final passage. To date, it has received just one vote in opposition from both the committee and chamber levels of the Utah Legislature.
Laura Bunker, director of the Utah chapter of United Families International, said the bill is a "thoughtful" part of a larger effort to combat poverty in the state. That knowledge is power, she said, and as people learn to think independently, they are better able to live independently.
"This bill helps focus the resources where they are supposed to be — on the students themselves," Bunker said. "We love how this gives the student the opportunity to be tutored by their own teacher."
Karen Compton, president of Voices for Utah Children, said children who start school behind their peers are likely to remain behind without some sort of intervention like the one provided for in Reid's proposal.
"We all want people to climb the ladder of success, but if we really want that, we need to make sure they can at least get to the first rung," Compton said.
SB43 is also endorsed by Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, who noted Tuesday that it is rare for her to speak in support of early childhood intervention and after-school programming.
"There’s not many of them out there that I have felt are even appropriate or something government should be involved in," Ruzicka said.
The difference, she said, is Reid's plan would not simply put a group of children together after school because they have nowhere else to go, but would instead provide individualized instruction based on a student's academic needs.
Ruzicka also said her discussions with Reid over the years on the topic of intergenerational poverty have made it clear that Utah families are facing a problem that "doesn't stop. It just gets worse."
"This is definitely a step in the right direction," she said.
SB43 will now go before the House for consideration. A key point in the bill's final passage will be its accompanying $5 million appropriation.
Reid's proposal was not among those education bills prioritized for funding by the Public Education Appropriations Committee last month. Updated revenue projections released last week provided more funding flexibility to lawmakers, but the total amount of dollars available to the state remains insufficient to fund all bills under consideration.