Mayor Ben McAdams | news from Salt Lake county

July 9, 2013
Author: Mayor Ben McAdams | Cottonwood/Holiday Journal

As a parent and as a taxpayer, I believe that education is the best investment we can make in our children.  Every Utah child should have the opportunity to achieve his or her potential—regardless of their zip code or economic circumstance.

As I talked with residents last year while seeking the job of mayor, I heard over and over again how important this issue is to them and to their families.  Utahns value education and overwhelmingly support investing in our future by investing in our kids.

I strongly support the Utah tradition of having school curriculum decisions made at the local level, by local school administrators, teachers and parents.  That model serves us well.  But the county has long been a strategic partner with some preschool and after-school programs. I have asked my Human Services Department to pursue an initiative that holds tremendous promise for giving children access to a quality education—and also save taxpayers money.

Two areas where I think the county can enhance its targeted educational support role involve the county’s traditional efforts with regard to preschool and after school.  Salt Lake County currently operates programs that include safe, constructive after-school programs, behavioral health services for youth, early literacy programs at county libraries and partners with Head Start to provide preschool services at the Christmas Box House.

That’s why it’s exciting to have the opportunity to partner with a preschool program designed and operated in Granite School District. Granite has been operating a limited program for the past five years. They staffed 15 classrooms, with a total of 300 children. They tested the children prior to entering the preschool program and retested them when they reached third grade.  The results were impressive.  The achievement gap between economically-disadvantaged students and non-disadvantaged students in both Language Arts and math was reduced by 20 and 18 percentage points.

Granite District’s experience mirrors what the research shows elsewhere in the country.  Research also shows that low income children who attend preschool are: 1) 30 percent more likely to graduate from high school; 2) twice as likely to be employed in a high-skilled job; 3) 30-50 percent less likely to use drugs and 4) 30-50 percent less likely to be arrested for violent crimes, property crimes or drug offences.  It’s a case of where, by doing the right thing, we are also doing the fiscally responsible thing.

United Way of Salt Lake—which is working to create what’s called “results-based financing” to expand preschool access—has received commitment letters from private investors.  They’ve agreed to invest several million dollars that could serve thousands of additional children by expanding structured preschool programs. The investors are paid back based on the savings generated by the children who stay with their peers on grade and do not need special education.

I’m excited to participate in this important education initiative.  I’ll keep you updated in this column as we move forward to expand opportunity for all children in Salt Lake County.