An additional 600 disadvantaged children will get into Granite School District preschools this fall through a private/public partnership being hailed by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams as a first-of-its-kind.
McAdams convinced the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday to invest $350,000 in the preschool program, the final piece of an innovative financing package he insists will help more children reach their potential and become meaningful community contributors. Their success stories also will reduce future county costs for criminal justice and behavioral health services, with the mayor projecting savings of up to $14 for every $1 spent.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," McAdams said later at a news conference at Granite District headquarters, expressing hope that a successful application of the funding model at this level will convince state legislators to beef up preschool education statewide.
The 2013 Legislature killed a bill sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, that would have expanded "high quality preschool programs" for at-risk children across Utah. He had asked for $1 million in state funds to be used to repay part of a $10 million investment from the private sector.
For several years, United Way has been working with Granite District and Voices for Utah Children on a study whose data showed that quality preschool enables 95 percent of 3-year-olds to avoid the need for more costly special-education services when they reached third grade.
United Way will pass the money through to the Granite and Park City districts, where existing preschool programs will be expanded with more teachers and training.
The need is great, said Brenda Van Gorder, Granite's preschool services director, noting she has a waiting list of 1,100 to get into Granite's preschool programs, which already serve 3,000 children at 70 sites.
This financing arrangement, she said, "will give 600 incredible children an opportunity, a leg up in life" and predicted many will become "leaders in their classes, and in their schools, and I would venture the next leaders of our community and our state."
The 3-year-olds will be tested now and then again when they are third-graders. If the data show that preschool helped them achieve reading, writing and arithmetic achievements approaching those of preschoolers overall, then the county's contribution would be used to repay Goldman Sachs and the Pritzker Foundation for their loans.
But in this "results-based financing" arrangement, if the extra education does not produce positive results, the county gets its money back and the investors take the loss.
"We only pay if the program succeeds. If it's not anything more than baby-sitting and kids are still falling behind, we don't pay," McAdams said. "We're expecting results before we make the commitment."
Although council chairman Steve DeBry had reservations, all five council Republicans supported the Democratic mayor's plan. Conservative Richard Snelgrove applauded it, joining McAdams at the news conference.
"Here is a program that could break the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency," Snelgrove said. "[That] means a smaller government footprint in the social services area. I can get behind that."
Van Gorder said more preschool teachers will be hired and ready to go when the fall session begins after Labor Day.
Other S.L. County Council action
Because Outdoor Retailer is such a prized business partner, Salt Lake County is making it easier for a "tent village" to spring up in the plaza in front of Abravanel Hall when the Summer Market trade show is here July 31 through Aug. 3.
Occupied by a handful of the thousands of outdoor companies at the trade show, the village has been on a lawn across West Temple from the Salt Palace Convention Center. But that open area is now the staging site for the Capitol Theatre renovation project.
So Abravanel Hall's plaza is the best space available nearby, said county Community Services Director Erin Litvack. And since OR is Salt Lake's biggest annual convention, worth upward of $30 million annually to the local economy, she encouraged the County Council to cut the rental rate by 50 percent to about $2,500.
The aye vote was unanimous.