Republican State Representative Greg Hughes is sponsoring a bill that would get about 3,000 at risk-kids into preschool. He says Utah will save money by getting kids better-prepared for kindergarten and reading at grade level.
Last year, state lawmakers said “no” to this idea– or at least one that closely resembles Representative Hughes’ proposal.
But Hughes says getting more kids into preschool will shave costs for the state, which shells out an additional $2600 per student for kids who need special education and individual attention.
“If we can leverage in the state of Utah where we have finite dollars, somebody else’s capital, to invest in these kids, and if the amount that we would pay them for the curriculum is so much smaller than what we would have paid for the special education costs, than it’s a savings to the taxpayer,” Hughes says.
Last year, Republican Senator Aaron Osmond proposed a bill that would have invited private companies to invest the initial capital to expand preschool programs in Utah. The state would only be required to repay the loan if the preschool expansion saves money in the long run.
Hughes says this bill is basically the same, but unlike Osmond’s bill, it would not require preschools to have a particular curriculum.
“One of the criticisms were you’re trying to grab this kid and put them in a public school district early,” Hughes says. “You know, there are some people that are worried about social engineering kids cradle to grave. We don’t want to get into that conversation in this. We just want to say, look, we’ve got kids that are somewhere right now. Let’s get this curriculum in front of them and let’s get these kids ready.”
Hughes says he’s not ready to name the investors who’ve come forward, although Salt Lake County recently enrolled 600 at-risk kids in preschool at Granite School District with a loan from Goldman Sachs and investor J.B. Pritzker.
He says it would cost about $5 million.