Much attention has been paid this legislative session to “pre-K” — that critically important time before children enter kindergarten, when they develop skills that will guide them for the rest of their lives.

Acquiring those early skills is crucial for individual children, to be sure. But policies that foster such development also play a vital role on a much broader scale, as there is no better way to support the state’s economic future than by putting education first.

Whether a child will succeed, in school and beyond, is determined early in life. This is particularly true for the more than 100,000 at-risk children in Utah, who, absent early intervention, start school at a distinct disadvantage that only grows as the years progress.

As such, we must start early to ensure that Utah’s youth meet the benchmarks that determine success. Funding quality preschool programs that prepare at-risk children to enter school ready to learn is crucial to both the individual success of our students and the overall economic health of our state.

School readiness initiatives defray millions of dollars in special education funding, as well as eliminate public safety and other social service costs by diverting people from these costly programs. In fact, research indicates every $1 invested in preschool saves taxpayers $7 to $10 in future costs.

Consider: Children who start school ready to learn are more likely to finish high school and attend college. These students will graduate, ideally find work in their chosen professions and make positive, substantial contributions to the Utah economy.

Conversely, without high-quality preschool, an at-risk child is 25 percent more likely to drop out of high school, 60 percent more likely not to attend college, and 70 percent more likely to commit a violent crime.

Education First supports three pieces of legislation currently moving through the Utah Legislature that propose solutions to enhance early childhood education: HB96, sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes; SB42, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond; and SB148, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams.

These three bills don’t take the same path, but they all march toward a shared goal: Providing at-risk children (and their parents and caregivers) with much-needed tools to start school on a level playing field with their peers with every opportunity for long-term success.

HB96, SB42 and SB148 speak directly to Education First’s overall public education priorities: Improve 4th grade reading scores; Improve 8th grade math scores; Improve high school completion and college and career readiness.

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Proper funding of and support for early intervention programs is a critical step toward achieving these important goals. We thank the Legislature for supporting SB148, and respectfully request that lawmakers also pass the remaining two measures this year, for the benefit of all Utah schoolchildren and Utah taxpayers.

There is, we believe, no better way to support the state’s economic future than by putting education first.

Jesselie Anderson is an Education First executive committee member. Education First is a citizens group 50,000 members strong, organized as a state PAC, dedicated to improved accountability, innovation, and investment for education in Utah.