The 2020 Legislative Session is nearly here. And we have several public policy priorities this year that we believe will help children and families thrive in our community.
At United Way of Salt Lake, we understand that creating lasting impact requires widespread change across many areas. Here are our main priorities for the upcoming session:
Funding high quality preschool
Research shows that high-quality preschool is a key driver of kindergarten readiness and that it provides the foundation of literacy and numeracy. It readies children academically and socially to succeed in school and increases their likelihood of economic well being as adults. The impact of high-quality preschool is particularly profound for low-income children and is critical in closing the disparity gap.
Last year the legislature passed a significant bill aligning the state’s preschool programs, building upon lessons learned, and strengthening and rewarding quality programs. While an additional $6 million was appropriated to the program, in the 2019-20 school year grant cycle, there was not enough money to meet the demand. Many programs had to close classrooms and reduce the number of kids served. In the Granite School District alone two and a half classrooms were closed and they were unable to provide nearly 200 scholarships for children who are at risk of later academic failure.
We support a $3 million ongoing appropriation to make sure that high quality preschool can be accessed and fully fund such programs.
Expanding access to optional extended-day kindergarten
Did you know that 24% of Utah students are able to access extended-day Kindergarten, compared to 80% of students nationally?
Data and research shows that more time for in-classroom learning, paired with quality instruction, makes a difference for kids who are at-risk of academic failure. Knowing this program can be a game changer for children, United Way is supporting Representative Snow’s bill, HB99 Enhanced Kindergarten Amendments to expand the optional extended-day kindergarten program. You can read more about the bill here.
Supporting Quality Instruction in PreK Through 3rd Grade
We know that a strong early educational foundation is essential for children as they grow. There are many factors that contribute to a student’s academic performance, including individual, family, and neighborhood characteristics, but teachers matter more to student achievement than any other school-related factor.
Representative Waldrip is running a bill, HB114 Early Learning Training and Assessment Amendments, aimed at supporting teachers and students in preschool through 3rd grade. The bill promotes strategies that are proven to support teachers in learning and employing best teaching practices, and in creating systems that support quality instruction and student outcomes. You can read more about the bill here.
Creating a School Leadership Initiative
Principals have a significant impact on student achievement. They supervise and support teachers, set the tone for school culture and climate, and implement instructional and curricular priorities. This year, UWSL is supporting a major priority of the Utah State Board of Education to create and fund a school leadership program aimed at better training principals.
The School Leadership Initiative builds upon recommendations from a statewide working group to create an ecosystem of strategies, resources, and policies to support learning and innovation for Utah’s school leaders.
Through initial and ongoing funding, the initiative would develop a school leader performance assessment to better assess principal candidate’s knowledge and skills, a leadership development grant for school districts to create better mentorship, job training, and pipelines, and a scholarship to increase access and reduce the financial burden to potential administrators.
Forming A Statewide College Access Advisor Program
Data shows that only 66% of Utah high school graduates enroll in college within five years. A pilot program operated by the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) showed that a student who meets with a college access advisor three to five times are almost twice as likely to go to college.
In an effort to build a pathway to college, funds are needed to put a college access advisor in every high school in the state. These advisors focus on college readiness and assist students with application completion. UWSL supports ensuring that every Utah high school has a college advisor, which requires a 2020 funding request of $3 million in ongoing funds and an additional $3 million in 2021.
Evictions and School Mobility
Another focus area of our work is addressing mobility rates in schools. When kids miss more than two consecutive days of school, learning loss is likely to occur. For a child that has an unplanned move during the school year, this can mean a minimum of a week or more of missed school, in addition to the sometimes difficult transition to a new school.
The team is looking to reduce the number of families that have to move during the school year due to nonpayment of rent. UWSL supports changing the three-day notice for nonpayment of rent from calendar to business days and working with landlords to provide information about help resources when legal notice is given to a tenant.
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By Elizabeth Garbe, Senior Director of Government Relations and Public Policy at United Way of Salt Lake