Utah public preschool bill headed toward final votes after clearing House committee

March 7, 2016
Author: Benjamin Wood
http://www.sltrib.com/news/3629022-155/utah-public-preschool-bill-headed-toward

An $11 million expansion of public preschool is on track for passage as the Utah Legislature begins its final week of deliberations. 

The bill was prioritized for funding under the most recent budget agreements last week. And on Monday it received the approval of the House Education Committee ahead of debate by the full House. 

"SB101 will open up the door of opportunity a little wider," said Tess Davis, policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children. 

The bill, sponsored by Ogden Republican Sen. Ann Millner, would provide grants for the expansion of preschool programs (home-based and those provided by public and private schools) for at-risk students.

It was approved by the Senate in a 19-4 vote last month, but will require an additional vote by both chambers due to technical changes made in committee.

Millner said the bill is intended to address both the capacity of, and access to, academically rigorous preschool programs throughout the state.

"We really want to be able to provide more options for parents," she said. "And we want to make sure it's high quality pre-K." 

Scott Ulbrich, chairman of the United Way of Salt Lake's board of directors, said existing programs in Utah have demonstrated the long-lasting benefits of preschool education for students from low-income or non-English speaking families. 

He said early intervention for at-risk students is critical for both performance levels and the children's enjoyment of learning. 

"What the data doesn't show is the enthusiasm in the eyes of children who are beginning to learn to read," he said. 

The bill is set to be funded largely through a one-time use of TANF, the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. 

The proposal will now be debated on the House floor and, if successful, will return to the Senate for a concurring vote on the committee changes.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood