Utah lawmakers expected to debate full-day kindergarten funding

Whether the issue gains traction among lawmakers remains to be seen.

(Tim Vandenack | Standard-Examiner) Tina Olter, a kindergarten teacher at Heritage Elementary School in Ogden, works with her students on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

Ogden • Ask Amy Meunier, a kindergarten teacher at Heritage Elementary School in Ogden, whether full-day kindergarten outweighs the benefits of partial-day kindergarten and there’s no hesitation.

“It’s super worth it,” she said.

She has previously taught partial-day classes but now teaches a full-day class at Heritage and says the extra time allows her to cover more ground with the students and give them one-on-one attention. Partial-day kindergarten — the norm in most of Utah — left her scrambling to get to all the material she wanted to cover. “It is so hard to fit everything into a day,” she said.

School vouchers are no doubt a hot topic, getting plenty of attention in the wake of passage of House Bill 215. That measure, signed into law last Saturday by Gov. Spencer Cox, boosts teacher pay and, to the chagrin of critics, creates a voucher program allowing parents to tap into public funds to cover the cost of private schooling for their kids.

But it’s not the only education issue expected to get debate during the 2023 state legislative session. The fight for state money to fund full-day kindergarten across the state — Utah lags far behind the nation as a whole — has been a standing issue and will likely emerge during the session, like last year. Whether the issue gains traction among lawmakers remains to be seen, but its many proponents say it’s about time lawmakers allocate more funding for broader expansion of full-day kindergarten, or FDK.

“I think the odds are good that some funding will be directed toward expanding optional FDK,” said Anna Thomas, senior policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids that has pushed for more money to expand kindergarten offerings. The Utah State Board of Education, she said, estimates $51.4 million per year is needed to allow for expansion of full-day kindergarten to all Utah schools.

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This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aim to inform readers across the state.