Pre-K Extension Proposal Passes Hurdle

(KCPW News) A bill that would extend preschool to at-risk students gained the favor of a House committee on Thursday after about an hour of deliberation.

HB 96 would fund an initiative to provide early childhood education programs offered by either public or private entities. Republican Rep. Greg Hughes, the sponsor of HB 96, said that early intervention is key in making sure students are well-equipped to handle later levels of education—particularly the third grade.

“We know that if they read out of grade level by third grade, then the rest of their time in public education is spent learning reading, to learn what the curriculum in front of them is,” Hughes said. “If they are behind after third grade, it seems that that curve is never overcome, and the costs that the state incurs and the special ed that we use to help these students seems to continue throughout their experience.”

According to Hughes, who is the House majority leader, a version of this bill came up during last year’s legislative session, but it was criticized for being too “prescriptive,” meaning the state shouldn’t take kids and move them to a “prescribed preschool.”

The difference this year, Hughes said, is that parents could choose where their child goes to preschool.

“The idea here is that we would create a board. That board would verify that there is quality curriculum, and then wherever that daytime population of students would be, we would make sure that there are opportunities to see that quality curriculum delivered,” said Hughes.

As with many education bills, the issue of funding was a sticking point. Republican Rep. Jim Nielson expressed skepticism about funds for the initiative coming from the general fund, not the education fund, saying it’s essentially coming from the same place. He also said this bill would be funding a new education program when we’re already not doing enough to fund education in the first place.

“Regardless of where we take the money, in my view, it’s coming out of public education—out of K-12,” Nielson said. “So I have always been challenged by the concept of adding something when we’re not doing as much as I believe we need to be doing with our fundamental responsibility, which is K-12.”

Some members of the public spoke out against the bill, saying children so young don’t belong in a school setting or away from home. Regardless, the House Education Committee voted 13-3 in favor of HB 96. The Utah School Readiness Initiative now moves to the full House.