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SALT LAKE CITY — Nonprofit United Way presented its 2020 policy agenda Tuesday and highlighted several bills centered around early childhood education.
Following the nonprofit’s presentation, Utah legislative leadership participated in a panel discussion in which the lawmakers discussed an array of topics including the bills United Way spoke in favor of.
Rebecca Chavez-Houck, United Way of Salt Lake public policy committee co-chairwoman, said the nonprofit is championing legislation aimed at improving early childhood education because starting early has better long-term outcomes for children. It’s also, she said, cost effective and backed by research showing “high quality preschool drives kindergarten readiness and provides a foundation for literacy and numeracy.”
This impact is particularly influential for low income children and can play a key role in reducing the disparity gap.
During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that aligned preschool programs across the state and strengthened existing programs. The program was appropriated an additional $6 million, but there was still not enough money to meet the state’s needs, Chavez-Houck said. As a result, program leaders were forced to close classrooms and the number of children benefited was reduced.
She cited the Granite School District as an example in which leaders were unable to provide around 200 scholarships and two and a half classrooms closed.
To address this need, United Way supports an ongoing $3 million appropriation to be put toward funding high quality preschools, Chavez-Houck said.
Acknowledging that preschool is not an option for all Utah families, United Way is also backing HB99 — legislation aimed at increasing optional extended kindergarten opportunities to children who need the extra time.
“Currently around 40% of children are showing up to school without the foundation they need to be successful. But what we do know is that when challenged in kindergarten, it only takes 15 to 30 extra minutes over a short amount of time to help that child,” Chavez-Houck said. “But by third grade, it takes 90 minutes to three hours a day to close that gap.”
HB99 would expand the state’s optional extended kindergarten program and help at-risk children in particular navigate this disadvantage, she said.
Chavez-Houck also announced United Way’s support of HB114, legislation supporting teachers and students falling between preschool and third grade.