SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – The Department of Education released a report this week that ranked the Beehive State with the second-smallest percentage of 4-year-old’s enrolled in publicly-funded preschool programs, a ranking educators and policy makers are looking to change.
“We’ve identified that we can do more as a state,” said Speaker of the House, Greg Hughes (R-Draper).
Strong ideologies in Utah about preschool programs and education funding have held back the advancement of early education.
“We are a state where many in Utah made the choice where they will have their children when they are 4 years of age and if that’s the parents choice we don’t want to interrupt that,” said Hughes.
2 years ago Hughes helped pass HB 96, the School Readiness Bill through the state legislature, a huge step in getting children the resources they need, especially at risk children.
“The bill looks to identify these kids, it looks to do right by them, when you do right by these kids everyone wins. Society wins,” said Hughes.
According to the report only 40% of Latino children go into these programs, a lower percentage compared to African American and Caucasian children which stand at 50% and 53% respectively. Even more, low income families only see 41% attendance compared to 61% for privileged families.
In regards to a mandate requiring preschool to all children Hughes adds, “The challenge we have in Utah if you look at our funding, it’s hard pressed that we get the appropriate resources into our schools. Adding those 2 years it would be hard to even pencil the amount of dollars we have in resources. It’s the largest portion of our state budget but we have a lot of children here in Utah.”
The problem isn’t that it’s an opportunity gap but that it is an access issue, and educators agree that more access needs to be made available to children especially less privileged children so they can enter these schools and become successful.
“We have to change the access, that’s all of us working together. That’s the public, that’s state, that’s the community, to offer opportunities to families,” said Brenda Van Gorder, Granite School District Director of Preschool Services.
Studies have shown that children who attend Pre-K programs are better off, and it all begins with providing familieswith the opportunity to access these programs.
“Children who attend high quality preschool do well, and stay in school. They go on and do good in society, that’s good for Utah and that’s good for society.