Despite Conservative Push Back, Pre-K Bill Passes out of Committee

Rep Greg Hughes (Republican - Draper)
Rep Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper)

A proposed bill to create a board that will fund pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk students passed the House Education Committee Thursday morning. HB 96, sponsored by Representative Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper), advanced on a 13-3 vote.

The bill would create the School Readiness Board, which will negotiate contracts with private entities to fund pre-kindergarten programs, and will award grants to qualifying early childhood education programs.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (Democrat) testified in favor of the bill, “What we’re trying to solve with this legislation is a very simple problem: vocabulary. [These children] don’t know shapes and colors, they don’t know vocabulary. It’s a simple problem, and actually a pretty inexpensive and simple solution, which is to give them the tools so they can start kindergarten ready to learn.”

At-risk children could include those from families who are low-income, or perhaps speak English as a second language. Advocates for the bill point out that children can fall behind in school very quickly if they don’t enter into Kindergarten at the same level as their peers who attended pre-schools.

“This bill makes a lot of sense for our children and for the future, the economic benefit in the long run for Utah,” said Jared Lisonbee, who was representing the Utah Association for the Education of Young Children. Lisonbee is also an assistant professor of child and family studies at Weber State University.

Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that the bill would eventually lead to pre-kindergarten for everyone and she believes that’s not a good thing. According to Ruzicka, no formal education is required for children so young, and she advocated for the young children to spend more time with their families, rather than attending Pre-Kindergarten classes.

Stan Rasmussen, Director of Public Affairs for the Sutherland Institute also weighed in on the legislation with a prepared statement. “Instead of crafting a statewide pre-school program that could end up unnecessarily taking many children who are not truly at-risk out of their homes, Utah should recognize the fact that local school districts are better situated to determine at-risk status and craft targeted pre-school programs for children in need.”

To hear Hughes, Ruzicka, and McAdams in their own words, click here to listen to the supplemental report from Michael Orton.

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