In Utah, 1,507 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start programs, and 2,336 3-year olds and 4,249 4-year olds are enrolled in Head Start programs. Utah does not have a state-funded pre-K program, however, activity in the state is very promising. In 2014, the state legislature approved future investment in early education programming for at-risk children, through a public-private partnership between business and the state. Results will include increased funding and support for high-quality early learning programs with a proven record of success; existing public and private early education programs to increase quality; and independent evaluation. The state has also released its Early Childhood Core Standards, which will assist more than 6,000 students currently enrolled in district-operated preschool programs. The average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $7,860.
- What’s happening in the legislature: More than 100 pieces of education-related legislation were sponsored during the 2014 legislative session, including bills to improve the access, quality and resources for early learning programs. In February, Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, sponsored a bill to “extend preschool services to at-risk students through private investment,” which advanced quickly through the House Education Committee. Despite claims that the funding model was too controversial, the bill passed the House with a 49-24 vote and later, advanced through the Senate Education Committee. After it was approved by the Senate in a 17-10 vote, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Herbert on April 2, 2014.
- What the Governor is saying: Understanding that “an educated workforce is critical for a prosperous economy,” Gov. Gary Herbert has expressed strong support for public-private partnerships that reward student success and incentivize positive outcomes. The governor not only signed the bill to extend preschool access to 2,500 at-risk students, but has helped to keep the issue on the political agenda in Utah.
- Funding increases and additional support: Utah’s decision to fund early education programs through private investments and corporate partnerships offers a unique model for other states. Many are looking to its “Pay for Success” model for pre-K with great interest, noting the state’s success in working with Goldman Sachs to give businesses “a more direct way to support early interventions” with social impact bonds (SIBS). In the Granite School District, for example, Goldman committed to invest $7 million in the Utah High Quality Preschool Program, which “provides targeted curricula for 3- and 4-year-olds in hopes of preparing them for academic success.”