The Utah Legislature finds money for programs and expenditures that conservative legislators like, even when it means earmarking future revenue for them. Transportation is a good example. Since better and more roads can be easily linked to economic development the holy grail for Republicans the Legislature has earmarked a substantial amount in revenue growth specifically for highway and transit projects.
But when it comes to education funding, legislators talk the talk in a big way but go nowhere when they walk.
Let's hope a proposal headed for the upcoming legislative session a bill being drafted by Sen. Aaron Osmond with input from the nonprofits Voices for Utah Children and United Way of Salt Lake finds the support it deserves.
Osmond and the advocates for children's welfare recognize the importance of early-childhood education in boosting academic achievement, high school graduation and even college success, especially among children from low-income and disadvantaged homes. They also recognize that Utah's conservative legislators perennially balk at increased spending for public education and are particularly suspicious of state-sponsored programs to help children who are too young for kindergarten. Even all-day kindergarten, which has proven successful in boosting achievement for at-risk children, receives a pittance in state support.
Osmond says his bill will rely on private businesses to provide initial funding for preschools for at-risk kids. Only when it is shown that the preschool experience has succeeded in raising the children's academic skills to the level of their peers' would the state need to come up with money to repay the investment, with interest.
If the program did not succeed, the state would be off the hook, but it would have to set aside $1 million to $2 million a year, anticipating success.
Legislators have said they believe young children belong at home with parents and not in preschool, even though most parents who can afford it send their children to private preschools or organize similar educational ventures themselves. The fact is that many children of low-income families are not at home with their parents, who often work two jobs to pay the bills, but languish in day care that doesn't give them an educational benefit.
Goldman Sachs, which has some investment experience under its belt, is involved in a similar program to reduce teen recidivism in New York City's correctional system. It is interested in investing in Utah preschool and Utah children.
We'll see if our legislators are willing to do the same.