On May 3, we proudly celebrated the ceremonial signing of HB477 Full-Day Kindergarten Amendments. This groundbreaking bill gives Utah families the freedom to choose the kindergarten education that best fits their children.
Joined by Governor Spencer Cox, Lieutenant Governor Deirdre Henderson, Representative Robert Spendlove, and our partners, we commemorated a momentous occasion years in the making!
Sixteen years of hard work from educators, parents, policy experts and advocates like you made this systems-level change possible. Not only will there be greater access to FDK across the state, but the bill also allows schools statewide to utilize state education dollars to fund their optional full-day kindergarten (FDK) programs the same way grades 1-12 are funded.
How We Got Here:
In 2007, United Way of Salt Lake helped pass SB49 Optional Extended-Day Kindergarten. The legislation laid the first brick of the foundation for full-day kindergarten (FDK) expansion in Utah. In the years that followed, we became relentless in our FDK advocacy efforts.
After 14 years of pushing for change, UWSL and our partners at Voices for Utah Children decided to advocate for FDK expansion, rather than incremental increases or piecemeal funding grants.
With this objective in mind, the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now! Coalition was born. UWSL and Voices for Utah Children, along with experts at the Utah School Board of Education and Utah PTA, convened local education leaders, parents, educators, and champions in the public and private sectors to more effectively advocate for FDK. The coalition allowed FDK advocates to share the work of developing communications, collecting data, lobbying policy makers, and aligning activities.
The first bill to provide FDK for every student who wanted it ran during the 2022 general legislative session. HB193 Full-Day Kindergarten aimed to expand optional FDK to all Utah elementary schools over three years. Unfortunately, the final bill that passed was not the one we wanted, though it did provide a $12.2 million increase in funding for the FDK grants.
Undeterred, we went back this year and successfully passed HB477. Every week we hosted Days on the Hill, where parents and their children joined us to talk with their legislators about the importance of having a choice of a FDK option. Op-eds and letters to the editor were sent into local newspapers. Teachers and local school administrators also shared how FDK has positively impacted students and schools.
The Impact of Full-Day Kindergarten
Passage of this bill now means all Utah families are able to choose the kindergarten option that works best for their children.
It means working families who previously only had half-day options can choose to send their child to FDK. It eliminates expensive decisions for families, like paying for additional childcare or deciding if one parent must change or leave their job or education path. It means that refugee or immigrant children learning English will have a better chance of starting first grade proficient in their second language because they will have adequate time in the classroom.
The impact of FDK expansion is already felt. Parents have begun receiving letters from their principals letting them know FDK will be an option for them. Although some districts will take longer to expand, the funding is there for them when they are ready. Soon the entire state of Utah will have access to the option they want for their child.
This is a systemic change that will positively impact generations of families and kids.
We want to thank our bill sponsor, Rep. Spendlove, for his dedication and work in getting HB477 passed this year. We also want to thank past bill sponsors, including Representative Lowry Snow and Representative Steve Waldrip.
We are so grateful for our partners at the Utah State Board of Education, Voices for Utah Children, the Utah PTA, and many others. Finally, but most importantly, we want to thank the parents, educators, and community advocates who told their stories and helped make this win a reality.
If you have any questions about FDK expansion, please see the FAQs page on the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now! Coalition website.
By Elizabeth Garbe, Vice President of Public Policy at United Way of Salt Lake & Lia Baez, Policy Director for United Way of Salt Lake