Full-day kindergarten is one step closer to becoming available for all Utah families after state lawmakers gave their approval Tuesday evening.
Members of the House Education Committee voted 10-2 to pass out HB193, which requires school districts across the state to offer a full-day option, with a favorable recommendation.
“To be clear, this does not mandate full-day kindergarten,” said Rep. Steve Waldrip, the bill’s sponsor. “This is an option for parents.”
Some school districts were worried about the timing of the rollout, so Waldrip, R-Eden, said he made sure districts have three full years to put the option in place. And local school districts can decide how and where they do that.
“It’s just a boost for those kids who need it,” he said.
Currently, 30% of kindergarteners participate in a full-day program, landing Utah among the bottom of the list compared to other states, according to Waldrip.
Gov. Spencer Cox and state lawmakers have prioritized more than $22 million for full-day kindergarten in the state budget, which has not been finalized yet. The option is also supported by the Utah State Board of Education, among many other organizations.
After the three-year period outlined in the bill ends, Waldrip said, “this funding will roll into the WPU, [weighted pupil unit],” which is per-student state funding in an amount set by lawmakers each year.
When Washington County School District added full-day kindergarten, about 96% of families opted in, Waldrip said. The representative and others touted the educational benefits of the option.
“Last year ... we were approaching 60% of our students, at this time of year, knowing all letters and sounds,” said Amy Mitchell, the Washington County School District’s Title I director. “This year by Nov. 1, we had over 90% of our kindergarten students solid with their letters and sounds, which is just tremendous.”
A mother of five children told lawmakers that one of her kids is currently in full-day kindergarten in Canyons School District.
“Last year, when I registered my son for a full day, the registration filled up within 30 minutes,” she said. “And if you think that’s quick, this year, it was full within four minutes. It’s clear that parents want this option.”
She also said that she has a son who is now in fourth grade who “struggles ... to remain above reading grade level.” He “only did half-day kindergarten because that’s what we had available” at the time.
“I have so much mom guilt about what I should have done earlier in his education to help establish a better foundation for his reading,” she said. “The extra hours and relaxed atmosphere of a full-day kindergarten class would have helped him immensely.”
Another mother, who said she is a single parent and full-time student at the University of Utah, has had trouble finding a kindergarten for her daughter that fits her schedule. Having a full-day option would help, she said.
Some parents and lawmakers stressed that they still want to have the option for half-day kindergarten, even if HB193 goes into effect. Waldrip said that’s his goal, too.
Attending kindergarten, in general, would still not be required in Utah under the bill.
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.