United Way of Salt Lake champions innovative project to provide high-quality preschool for Utah children.


What Was the Project? 

United Way of Salt Lake (UWSL) was a key contributor in an innovative project aimed at increasing access to high-quality preschool for low-income children. In partnership with the Sorensen Impact Institute and the Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice at Utah State University, UWSL released a report, Investing in our Future, that presents details and results of this multi-year collaboration. 

The Utah High-Quality Preschool Program piloted a funding structure, the PayforSuccess (PFS) model. In this model, private investors provided the upfront capital, a Social Impact Loan (SIL), that expanded access to high-quality preschool to over 2,700 Utah students. The state government would then pay back the loan with a modest interest only if a specific metric was achieved. In this case, the measure of success was a reduction in special education placement for students identified as high-risk based on language testing. 


How Was UWSL Involved? 

In 2013, legislation that would have allowed the state to enter into PFS contracts with private investors failed. Instead, the UWSL Board of Directors embraced significant risk by committing $1 million to the investor repayment fund for the project’s first cohort of students. As a dedicated champion of early childhood education, UWSL took initiative and demonstrated to the state government that the PFS model is a realistic solution for providing high-quality early childhood education. 

In addition to this financial undertaking, UWSL provided logistical support for the project in many ways including managing payments and reports, convening partners, and communicating with investors. Amy Ahrens Terpstra, UWSL Chief Impact Officer, co-authored the final report. Additionally, Bill Crim, UWSL CEO and Elizabeth Garbe, UWSL VP of Public Policy were acknowledged as contributors. 


Why Does It Matter? 

The Utah High-Quality Preschool Project was the first outcomes-based financing effort in the U.S. education sector and the first of its kind in early childhood. This innovative work paved the way for many changes including the Utah state legislature providing ongoing statewide funding for preschool. 

While the PFS funding structure proved to be an effective tool, it is important to emphasize that the ultimate goal of this project was to expand the number of available slots in high-quality preschool programs for low-income children. As part of our mission to help 100% of kids and families thrive, UWSL understands that high-quality preschool is a critical factor in helping students build a strong foundation and set them up for future academic success. 

The success of the project demonstrates how committed stakeholders from both the private and public sectors can work together to make meaningful and enduring change that benefits children, families, and communities at large.  


Key Takeaways 

– The Social Impact Loan (SIL) contributed by private investors funded slots in high-quality preschool for over 2,700 3- and 4-year-olds over a 5-year period. 

– Children with the enhanced preschool experience funded by the SIL were, on average, performing better and had fewer special education placements compared to demographically similar students in Granite School District and statewide. 

– The project’s overall success showed the Pay-for-Success (PFS) model can be used to fund high-quality early childhood education. 

– The project led to significant improvements for early-childhood education in Utah, including the passage of legislation providing ongoing statewide funding for preschool. 


Written by Jenna Fischer, Content Strategist