School board supports bill targeting poverty through after-school education

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 5:42 p.m. MST

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, presented to members of the State School Board his plan to create after-school programming for students affected by intergenerational poverty.

Jordan Allred, Deseret News Archive

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SALT LAKE CITY — At-risk students would have the opportunity to participate in two hours of additional schooling each day under the terms of a bill formally supported Thursday by the State School Board.

The unnumbered bill, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, calls for $5 million to create a program that would allow elementary schools to apply for a grant to provide extended-day services to the children of families affected by intergenerational poverty.

"We focus primarily on adults, believing that it will trickle down, but it doesn’t work," Reid said of the ongoing war on poverty. "The approach I thought we would venture out into is to have a data-driven approach so it's based on facts, based on the data, with a focus on children."

Reid said children from economically challenged families too often get trapped in a cycle of poverty, becoming discouraged while falling behind their peers and eventually dropping out of school. That leads to statistically higher instances of teen pregnancy, drug use and crime, he said.

Breaking that cycle requires interventions, Reid said, adding that ideally he would like to see state agencies working with educators to both provide help at home while offering additional resources at school.

"We have an obligation as adults to intervene," he said. "We have an obligation to do it another way."

The bill, which was prepared with help from the Utah State Office of Education, calls for teachers to be paid their hourly rate to extend their workday by 2 ½ hours, allowing 30 minutes of preparation and two hours of classroom time for all 180 days of the school year.

Participation in the after-school program would be voluntary and targeted at children whose families are affected by intergenerational poverty.

State Superintendent Martell Menlove said the intent is to have the same teachers students are engaged with during the day teaching the after-hours program. The $5 million would allow for 250 classrooms at roughly $20,000 each, he said.

Reid said that while initially limited to 250 classrooms, he expects the program to yield results that generate support to be extend throughout the state.

"I’d like to have every child, where it’s manageable, that’s part of this (at-risk) population to be able to get the additional help and training in school to help them be competitive and successful in life," he said.

The specifics of the grant program's management and design is left undefined to allow educators to create what they deem to be the most effective model, Reid said. From now until the bill goes up for debate, any changes to the language will be made by the State School Board, he said.

"I’m trying to get the Legislature out of the business of telling you how to do things," Reid told board members.

Board member David Thomas commented that Reid's bill aligns with the board's legislative priorities for the year, which include early intervention initiatives.

"We were talking about having a menu of options where schools could come in and ask for grants," Thomas said. "This could be one of those key components of that initiative."

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, also presented to the board some of his proposed bills for the 2014 session, including several pieces of legislation that represent altered versions of bills that failed to gain support last year.

Among those bills is a funding request for high-quality public preschool as a way to target economically disadvantaged students. Osmond described the bill as the most important piece of legislation he will sponsor this year. Like Reid, he presented his plan as a tool for disrupting families caught in a cycle of poverty.

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