United Way of Salt Lake Engages in Public Policy AdvocacyMarch 31, 2014
Because no single organization, or single sector, can solve our communities’ most serious problems alone, United Way of Salt Lake engages in public policy advocacy. Advocacy is an essential Collective Impact strategy that helps us achieve our mission and goals. In an effort to strengthen the early piece of the cradle to career pipeline and ensure more at-risk Utah children enter kindergarten on track with their peers, United Way of Salt Lake made high-quality preschool its number one policy priority this year. During Utah’s 2014 legislative session we celebrated the successful passage of the Utah School Readiness Initiative, a bill sponsored by Representative Greg Hughes. This bill not only secured $3 million in funding for preschool in Utah, but is the country’s first piece of legislation to use “pay for success” social impact loans for early childhood education.
The School Readiness Initiative was drafted to improve the quality of preschool programs, ensure children are showing up to school ready to learn, and allow the state to enter into pay for success contracts with private investors in order to increase access to high-quality preschools for Utah’s low-income children. The legislation was based on research conducted on a Promise Partnerships high-quality preschool program that proved investing in preschool has extremely positive outcomes for at-risk students and saves millions in taxpayer dollars. Of the 737 students in the study, 238 students’ assessments indicated they would potentially be eligible for resource special education without intervention. After completing the high-quality preschool program, only 11 students subsequently required special education, at an estimated savings of $1.8 million in state dollars in only four years.
Since only high-quality programs achieve lasting results, the pay for success component of the legislation was essential. Encouraging private sector financing provides a “money-back” guarantee that results will be achieved - something traditional public programs cannot do. If a particular program is not successful, it is the private investor that takes the financial loss. Any interest paid out as a result of the effectiveness of the program is lower, substantially so, than the expense of additional government services without the program’s existence.
Currently, private investors Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker, United Way of Salt Lake, and Salt Lake County are involved in a partnership that has expanded access to preschool to an additional 600 low-income children this year, mainly in Promise Partnership neighborhoods. The Utah School Readiness Initiative will allow for a similar statewide program that is projected to initially reach approximately 3,900 low-income students and eventually thousands more. Over time Utah taxpayers will avoid spending an estimated $30 million annually in costly remediation services.
Despite the fiscal conservative nature of the model, successful passage of this legislation took the work of many dedicated nonprofit and business partners and the engagement of thousands of individual advocates. United Way of Salt Lake embarked on a comprehensive grassroots campaign that started with a Stand4PreK Pledge. Over 4,370 people signed the pledge in two and a half months, and over 21,000 emails were sent to Utah legislators supporting high-quality preschool during that time.
The Utah School Readiness Initiative supports United Way’s Promise Partnerships and cradle to career goals by ensuring at-risk children have the opportunity to start school on track and stay on track. As Representative Greg Hughes, the bill sponsor said "We are doing phenomenal work with this bill. It’s an innovative plan that will give thousands of at-risk kids an opportunity to not only be successful in school, but to be successful in life." To learn more about the Promise Partnership preschool program check out this short documentary and see how preschool changes the odds.
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