After more than an hour of debate, Representative Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) was able to successfully pass HB 96, a bill that is designed to allow private investors to contribute funds to pre-kindergarten programs. The bill also requires that investors are paid back by the state if such programs are found to be successful.
Several lawmakers balked at the concept, worried that Pre-k programs take children away from homes and that Hughes is simply repeating the efforts of other government-funded programs.
Hughes, in response, noted that investments in Pre-K, particularly investments in the low-income families targeted in the bill, result in lower costs for the state later on. Citing a Utah State University professor in favor of the bill, Hughes noted that “the failure to intervene in Pre-K education when necessary will result in higher use of special ed services later in life.”
Representative Michael Kennedy (Republican – Alpine) suggested that the state spend more time investing in parents, rather than the students. “Where are the parents,” Kennedy asked. “If we invest in the parents, the children will succeed.”
Other representatives expressed concern of government overreach and waste. Representative Jim Nielson (Republican – Bountiful) wondered aloud about the prudence of expanding the program when funds are limited, while Representative Dan McCay (Republican – Riverton) asked if the performance evaluations related to HB 96 was simply “a new form of government expansion.”
The issue of childhood education in the light of difficult parenting situations is an issue close to Hughes, who grew up in a single mother household and cautioned that “when a young boy is looking for a father figure, that is where gangs come in… We should spend for a fence in front of the cliff [rather than for the cost of falling off].”
“We are beginning to realize the cost [of not having Pre-K],” Hughes continued. “There is a proof of concept model [that demonstrates success]… We are not just trying a ‘Cinderella slipper’ program [tailored to benefit one program over another].”
Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) gave an emotional defense. “This is a great investment in our children and it is a great investment in our education system.”
Ultimately, the bill would pass the House with a vote of 49-24 and will now be sent to the Senate.