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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah is one of 10 states bearing the brunt of criticism from a New Jersey-based research center for failing to provide state funding for preschool education.
A report released Thursday by The National Institute for Early Education Research argues that most states fail to invest enough in preschool education.
But the study was especially critical of Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming -- all states that don't provide education funding beyond federal Head Start programs for 3- and 4-year-olds before they attend kindergarten.
"Utah is very, very far down any list for access to any kind of preschool programs," said Steve Barnett, director of the center, which is affiliated with Rutgers University and supports early childhood education initiatives.
According to the U.S. Census, Utah ranks 42nd nationally in the percentage of 3 and 4-year-olds attending school. About 40 percent of children that age attended, compared with the national average of 49 percent.
Barnett said that's a problem because research shows that children who attend preschool are more likely to be successful in a classroom setting.
"There is no replacement for parents. But at the same time, a good preschool program can't be replaced by parenting programs," he said.
Brett Moulding, curriculum coordinator for the State Office of Education, said Utah law only allows the department to provide a kindergarten through 12th grade education.
Still, he said, it's misleading to assume that Utah children aren't being educated before kindergarten just because the state doesn't fund preschool programs.
"We do have preschools in Utah, and documents that help parents prepare children for school," he said.
Moulding pointed to private preschools, federally funded Head Start programs and public school districts that scrape together their own money to fund preschools.
Though Gov. Olene Walker has requested a big boost in state education funding, preschool money wasn't mentioned in her proposal.
Richard Ellis, director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, said the state just couldn't afford to shell out more for preschool money.
"We have a great challenge just funding our K-12 public education," he said. "To add two or three years of school would be a great burden on the budget."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)