SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave final approval Wednesday evening to legislation that creates a grant program to support kindergarten enrichment programs.
HB168, sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, is optional for parents but would grant schools resources to help struggling students gain the skills they need to perform on grade level by third grade.
The program would be supported by about $200,000 in state funds and more than $2.8 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds.
In earlier debate on the bill, Snow said the optional program could provide additional instruction to some 2,560 kindergartners who perform below peers on kindergarten entry assessments.
The program will target children living in intergenerational poverty, meaning their parents' households received public assistance and their own families receive those supports.
Schools that serve a population where at least 10 percent of the students experience intergenerational poverty or half of students are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch in the previous school year would receive priority in the grant process.
In a committee hearing, Snow said targeted interventions among Washington County children in optional extended kindergarten programs have helped many struggling children score on grade level with their peers as they enter first grade, and some have exceeded the academic performance of their classmates.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said a woman who taught kindergarten for 25 years texted her to say it is crucial that early learners have positive experiences in kindergarten.
"Extensive testing and extending their days is just burdensome for these young people," Dayton said, explaining her no vote.
But Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he used to oppose many programs such as school breakfast and extended-day kindergarten.
While there are few children in his neighborhoods who need such supports, former Sen. Stuart Reid of Ogden, who launched Utah's efforts to address intergenerational poverty, taught Stephenson that there are children who need "a scaffolding of support."
Stephenson said he is "repenting of the attitude I used to have about these kids who need it most."
The Senate voted 27-2 to pass the bill, which will now be sent to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration. Email: email@example.com