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Some say state should fund preschool programs

Some say state should fund preschool programs


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Deanie Wimmer reportingA new survey identifies Utah as one of only a dozen states with no state-funded preschool; yet, 10 percent of Utah's population is preschool age. That demographic has many wondering why we don't invest in education for our youngest students.

Some educators fear Utah's lack of preschool funding hurts children. Preschool director Connie Saccomanno said, "I think we live in a time now where it's not a luxury, it's a necessity."

Mom Aimee Stoddard sees the benefits of preschool firsthand when she volunteers in public school. "Those children who don't have the chance to be in a preschool program, they definitely struggle. And you can tell the children who have been fortunate enough to be in a preschool program," she said.

A survey by the National Institute for Early Education Research finds a certain group of students most often left out. Steven Barnett, with the institute, says, "Our report finds children from middle-income families are the biggest losers."

High-income families can afford private programs; low-income families qualify for programs like Head Start. Saccomanno has seen more families drop out and make late payments in the last year and a half. She believes states should invest in preschool to provide opportunities for all kids. "I think it would be helpful, either with the parents, or if you're going to subsidize, help us so we can provide this for everyone."

State education leaders have long tried to get pre-K programs passed in the Legislature. This year, lawmakers passed a bill to develop a central database so Utah preschoolers could do programs at home on the computer. It's something, but for researchers, it doesn't meet the standards of a quality program.

"States will have to decide whether preschool education is to be a welfare program or an essential investment in everyone's children," Barnett said.

Besides Utah, Mississippi, Montana and the Dakotas are other states with no state-funded preschool program. On the other end, New Jersey spends $10,000 a year per preschooler.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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