Salt Lake City—United Way presented its public policy agenda for the upcoming legislative session at the 2018 Legislative Preview Breakfast on Wednesday. The breakfast offered community and business leaders, nonprofit organizations and others the opportunity to engage in a discussion with legislative leaders about improving social issues facing all Utahns.
This year’s panelists included Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, Speaker Greg Hughes, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, Senator Gene Davis and Representative Brian King. Panelists answered questions focused on how the legislature will be working to advance the education, financial stability, and health of our families, neighborhoods, and communities.
“United Way recognizes that there are many important legislative issues that impact our quality of life in Utah, and in particular the opportunities available to those living in poverty,” said Bill Crim, United Way of Salt Lake president and CEO. “Our priorities for 2018 are an essential part of the work that we do in partnership with hundreds of nonprofits, businesses, government entities, schools, districts, and many others to improve the lives of children and families, and strengthen entire communities.”
Through a collaborative effort with business, community leaders and the broader community, United Way identified its top legislative priorities for 2018, these include:
United Way is dedicated to ensuring all children have the opportunity to succeed from cradle to career, and recommends making greater investments in education and high-quality preschool. High-quality preschool provides the necessary foundation for at-risk children to build upon, reducing long-term costs of remediation, special education use, possible juvenile justice, and welfare dependence.
In 2014, Speaker Greg Hughes, United Way, and numerous partners worked to pass the Utah School Readiness Initiative, a unique high-quality preschool program targeted at low-income, at-risk students. Since Utah’s initial investment, more than 4,000 children were served, 93 percent of at-risk children avoided special education, and over $1.7 million was saved in reduced special education use. During the 2018 session United Way will work to expand and strengthen the initiative.
United Way also supports efforts to create a coherent, comprehensive and aligned literacy strategy that is evidence-based and driven by best practices to ensure every child is reading on grade level by third grade. In Utah according to the SAGE test only 49% of students are proficient in Language Arts in third grade and this drops to 34% proficient for students who are low income.
Additionally, many Utah kids are unable to be the best student possible because of many other things happening in their lives, whether at home or in school. Unmet student mental and behavioral health needs are a significant barrier to educational success. Because Utah’s public education counselor program currently only serves junior high and high school students, United Way supports efforts to establish a formal counseling program for elementary schools and trauma informed practice training for teachers and personnel, so students needs can be better identified and served.
Lastly, the number one predictor of a child’s success in school outside of a parent’s education level and family income, is an effective teacher in the classroom. There have been efforts over the last number of years to increase principal leadership and teacher effectiveness. United Way continues to support these efforts to ensure students are receiving the best education.
For more information about United Way and to see the full public policy agenda for 2018, please visit uw.org/advocate.