Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Senate Passes Bill to Fund Pre-School for At-Risk Youth

Posted By on March 12, 2014, 5:10 PM

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House Bill 96 that would court private business money to help fund pre-school for at-risk youth cleared its last major hurdle by being passed out of the Senate and will soon be headed to the Governor's desk to be signed into law.---

HB 96 sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper and was a comeback for a bill that died in the Senate in the 2013 Legislature. The bill would create a “School Readiness Board” that would contract with private entities who would make the initial investment to fund approved preschool programming.

Under the latest version of the bill the state would set aside $3 million (the original cost was $5 million) of funding that would be used to pay back private investors—with interest—if kids in the preschool program were “grade ready” by third grade, being proficient in vocabulary, recognizing letters and shapes and others simple measures. That funding amount could assist hundreds if not thousands of Utah students.

The Senate sponsor of the bill Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George pointed out that the program was voluntary and for kids who were impoverished, and were assessed to lack certain skills. Urquhart said kids who were assessed at this level have been found to be 95 percent more likely to then later require special-education programming, a future expense that annually costs $2,600 more to the taxpayer per year of that child's education.

The bill had its critics on the floor including Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper who thought tests of the aptitudes of three-year olds wouldn't be accurate. “Some kids are late bloomers, others need assistance,” Stephenson said.

Others like Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay praised the bill, not only for helping students but also their families. She pointed out many parents with a child receiving special education programming are often-times working poor, who juggle multiple jobs while also trying to help their child not fall behind academically.

“This is not just cost avoidance, its family preservation,” Jones said.

The bill passed out of the Senate 17—10 and since it was amended heads back to the House for a final vote. Since the amendments were not major the bill will likely be on its way to the Governor to now be signed into law.

To read HB 96 click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this issue click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.

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