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Proposed bills to expand access to all-day Kindergarten in Utah get early support

Posted at 6:53 PM, Oct 30, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah - More Utah families could soon have the option of all-day kindergarten, as two proposed bills are getting early approval from lawmakers.

Optional Extended Kindergarten (OEK) is already an option at many elementary schools across the state. In Washington County, 24 schools offer the targeted learning program, but it’s only available to a couple dozen kids every year.

A draft bill sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R–Santa Clara, aims to expand the program.

“The data shows that if our school children aren’t at reading level by grade three, that’s a burden they carry with them throughout the balance of their academic career,” Snow said.

The bill would take an additional $10 million from the general education fund to allow more students to participate. Many of those students include ones who perform poorly on assessments.

“I think this is money well spent,” Snow said. “I think the earlier you can address learning issues with children, it provides a savings downstream.”

A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R–Sandy, would allow schools to charge a fee for extended kindergarten. Both drafts were adopted by the education interim committee on Thursday.

St. George mom Anna Williams is encouraged by the proposals. She said she didn’t realize how important kindergarten was until she enrolled her child.

“I think it would definitely be beneficial,” Williams said. “As far as learning more, I know it’s hard on the parents. They’re only in school a couple hours. I just think it depends on the kids.”

Washington County School District assistant superintendent Richard Holmes said the proof is in the numbers. During the 2014-2015 school year, they had just over 300 students enrolled in extended kindergarten. Those students outperformed students in regular kindergarten by the end of the school year.

“The data is out of this world,” Holmes said. “They used to focus a lot on the social aspect of it, getting the students to interact well. But we really focus hard those fundamental basic teachings.”

While those two bills have gotten a sort of early approval, they do await full consideration when the legislature convenes in January.