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Editorial: Utah legislators give hopeful preschool signs

Published January 29, 2014 1:01 am

Bills recognize value to at-risk kids
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Parents in Utah should be encouraged about one apparent trend in the Utah Legislature: an acceptance that state-sponsored preschool can improve the lives and academic achievement of children, especially those who would otherwise lag behind their peers as they enter kindergarten.

In the past some legislators have described preschool as equivalent to government ripping toddlers out of the arms of their mothers in order to replace the family with Big Government brainwashing. Evidence of the more enlightened attitude are two bills designed to provide funding for two types of preschool and another that outlines an innovative funding model for a classroom program.

All three bills are sponsored by Republican lawmakers. The cost per child is similar for each.

The difference among the bills is whether children will begin learning basic concepts of math and language in a classroom or at home with the help of computers and computer software.

SB148, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, would expand the pilot UPSTART program and make its funding ongoing. The program provides families with computers and software designed for young children.

SB42, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, would provide state funding to expand high-quality classroom preschool.

Both programs would focus on children from low-income families who are at risk for starting kindergarten far behind their peers, needing remedial help and eventually dropping out.

A third bill is being written by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, that would involve private investors, who would be repaid with interest by the state only after a third party evaluates the savings in remedial instruction. This bill should appeal to those legislators who are still unconvinced in the value to the state of early-childhood education.

Classroom instruction offers socialization in addition to basic academic skills. And there is the fact that many low-income parents work long hours and might not have time to help their children as they maneuver through a computer program. However, the in-home model might be better for some rural families who live long distances from schools.

It seems possible — and advantageous to children — to combine the two programs. Why not offer computers and software to families who don't want to send their preschool-age children to school or can't manage a set classroom schedule, but provide classroom instruction to those who prefer it?