Op-ed: Utah’s Pay for Success is a model ready for federal funding

October 10, 2015
Author: By Orrin Hatch and Kem Gardner

As a pioneer in Pay-for-Success approaches to policy challenges, Utah has engineered innovative programs to save taxpayer money and facilitate public-private partnerships. Following the principles of results-based financing, our state has even developed the world's very first Pay-for-Success initiative to fund early childhood education. This initiative — known as the Utah High Quality Preschool Program — gives children the foundation needed to excel academically.

Providing high-quality preschool education is a proven strategy to ensure children start school ready to learn. As children begin their education better prepared to succeed, they are more likely to achieve higher test scores and less likely to need special education as they progress through school. With fewer students requiring remedial services, both schools and taxpayers will save money. By using the Pay-for-Success model to fund early childhood education, we are not only improving academic outcome; we are investing in our economy by preparing the students of today for the workforce of tomorrow.  

United Way of Salt Lake spearheaded the early education Pay for Success Initiative, and its success is due to the collaborative work of various partners, including Voices for Utah Children, Granite School District, Salt Lake County, Goldman Sachs, private preschool providers, local businesses, the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert's office. By uniting to improve early childhood education, these stakeholders created an initiative that measures success through independent evaluation and specific outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, this program can be taken to scale.

While we agree that the primary responsibility for education resides with parents or guardians, some families simply cannot provide everything children need to succeed without some additional assistance. No child should be abandoned without help and without hope, and no child should be left to struggle because they lack opportunity — especially when there are cost-effective, practical solutions that can help students succeed.

As responsible stewards of our taxpayer dollars, Speaker Greg Hughes, the Utah State Legislature and Herbert's office led the nation in passing landmark legislation to put our children and our state on the right path. Building on the initial public-private partnership pilot over the next four years, this effort will impact over 3,500 children. 

Because Pay for Success has achieved such remarkable results in Utah, one of us, Sen. Hatch, has been working in Congress to allow other states to replicate this success. In fact, the Hatch amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act will allow states to implement Pay-for-Success initiatives. The federal government helps fund many education programs, but Washington seldom knows what's best for states or local communities. By allowing federal funds to help finance Pay-for-Success initiatives, this amendment will provide states with the flexibility they need to adopt effective, impactful strategies to improve education and save taxpayer money. The amendment passed as part of the Senate's education bill this summer and awaits action in the House of Representatives.

 Our country has much to learn from Utah's leadership in Pay for Success. By focusing on results and creating incentives for cost-effective interventions, this approach emphasizes prevention strategies instead of remediation. These initiatives effectively allocate resources to high-impact service providers, allowing states to cultivate successful programs that deliver meaningful results and improve the lives of families and children.

 With a clear focus on quality, data, and measurable outcomes, Pay for Success can improve education for children in Utah and across the nation.

Orrin Hatch is Utah's senior U.S. senator and the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. Kem Gardner is Chairman of the Gardner Company and a member of the executive committee of United Way of Salt Lake's board of directors.