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SALT LAKE CITY — A new study comparing education performance in Utah with that of Colorado surprised even child advocates.
"It's a striking finding," said Bill Jaeger of the Colorado Children's Campaign.
What he's referring to is Utah Foundation's new study that shows Colorado outscores Utah by a long shot on math and reading among all demographics.
Fifteen years ago, Utah was a top 15 state with Colorado close behind. Now, Colorado is in the top 10, but Utah has dropped to being in the mid-20s.
"We need to figure out how to change now and catch up with the rest of the nation," said Shawn Teigan, research director at Utah Foundation.
The research points to three priorities in Colorado schools that barely exist in Utah.
First is state-funded preschool. No children attend in Utah, whereas 21 percent of Colorado children attend public preschool. The Denver metro area has found such success that it is making public preschool available to all children.
"We get striking long-term cost savings by investment in the early years," said Jaeger.
Second, the Utah Foundation notes, is full-day kindergarten. Thirteen percent of Utah children attend, compared with 74 percent in Colorado.
By the time kids hit their fourth-grade national test, kids in Colorado have had a year and a half more instruction time than kids in Utah.
–Melissa Proctor, Utah Foundation
Utah Foundation's Melissa Proctor said, "By the time kids hit their fourth-grade national test, kids in Colorado have had a year and a half more instruction time than kids in Utah."
Finally, the study found funding matters: not just amount, but how it is spent. Both Colorado and Utah spend below the national average, but Colorado still spends about 30 percent more per student.
"Investment matters," Jaeger said. "But how you invest matters just as much."
Utah Foundation found Utah spends literacy dollars on software and specialists for all students. Colorado spends strategically on at-risk readers.
"In Colorado, districts are targeting their money on those who need help," said Teigan.
Combined, these three factors make a compelling case for educators and policymakers in Utah.
"Recognizing that we're going to pay now or we're going to pay a heck of a lot more later ... It's something policymakers recognize," said Jaeger.