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New plan unveiled to fund public preschool with private dollars

Published: Monday, March 4 2013 5:40 p.m. MST

"We need to recognize as a state the growing population that we define as at-risk," Osmond said. "We cannot continue to expect a different result by doing the same things."

Osmond  was joined Monday by representatives from the Utah State Office of Education, Utah Parent Teacher Association, Utah Education Association, Prosperity 2020 and other education stakeholders in support of the bill.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, the bill's House sponsor, spoke of the state's struggles to fund a large student population; Utah currently ranks as the lowest in the country for per-pupil spending.

Hughes said the bill is a way to fill in some of the gap between what funding is needed and what is available, while also promoting greater student achievement.

"I have scrubbed this bill. I have looked at this bill to see what could ever be the problem with this kind of public policy, and I can’t find it," he said. "It’s exciting to think there are private investors in this state who want to invest in our kids — not just our kids, but our high-risk kids."

Martell Menlove, state superintendent of public instruction, said the State School Board supports the bill and recognizes the critical nature of what happens when a student enters the public school system unprepared.

"We’re anxious to be part of the implementation of this new program as we do everything we can to try and meet the needs of every student in Utah," Menlove said.

Karen Crompton, director of Voices for Utah Children, also praised the bill. Students who start school behind grade level typically stay behind grade level, she said, but with early intervention, there's a chance to change the course of their academic lives.

"If we truly believe that every child deserves the chance to climb a ladder of success and reach their full, God-given potential, then we at least need to make sure they can get to the first rung on that ladder," Crompton said.

The bill's language states that the primary responsibility for the education of children resides with parents and guardians, and that most preschool-age children are better off being educated at home by their parents. The bill also calls for funding to go toward helping families access home-based educational technology, such as online programs for preparing students for kindergarten.

"This is not to replace parents. It's to help them," Osmond said. "It's time we do something different."

Under the terms of the bill, pre-school class sizes would not be allowed to exceed 20 students and would be limited to 16 hours per week for 4-year-olds and 12 hours per week for 3-year-olds. Participation in a high quality preschool program would also require the engagement of a child's parent or guardian, including monthly classroom participation.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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