High quality preschool closes the achievement gap for at-risk kids

by Gavin Reese
Attorney
Ray, Quinney and Nebeker
Chair, Young Leaders

In September, the legislature’s Education Interim Committee heard and discussed research that was based on Granite School District’s high-quality Title I preschool program. This innovative program addresses school readiness, closing the achievement gap for at-risk children, and the reduction of special education costs.

Senator Aaron Osmond initially drafted the piece of legislation in 2011 based on research started by Mark Innocenti, Director of the Early Intervention Research Institute at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. The legislation then continued as part of United Way of Salt Lake’s Collective Impact partnership with Voices for Utah Children, Granite School District, and Goldman Sachs.

During the hearing, Senator Osmond discussed how the study, which began in 2005 and is ongoing, tracked at-risk 4 year-olds throughout grade school as they participated in quality education programs at 11 Title 1 schools in the Granite School District. Research shows that these children, many of whom would have been placed in special education classes, were able to close the achievement gap by the time they started kindergarten and nearly all of the students have remained on par with their class through fourth grade. This reduction in special education resources can save the state millions of dollars, which can then be reinvested into the preschool program to serve more children.

For those looking for effective and efficient ways to close the achievement gap and boost student achievement in Utah, Senator Osmond’s High Quality Preschool bill (that is based on the Granite program and research study) should be a top priority for the 2013 legislative session. Knowing many of the youth in UWSL’s service area lack opportunity at an early age, UWSL is committed to ensuring children have access to early childhood programs proven to close the achievement gap and reduce special education use.

Unfortunately, Utah will be facing another tight budget year, where limited resources must be spread across competing priorities. As Senator Osmond stated, “One of the challenges we have is the reality that funding today’s immediate problems will always trump the long-term investment conversation…[but] we have to start talking about solving long-term problems with short-term solutions that really will impact the growing special education use and that will close the achievement gap moving forward.”

As Utah looks at where to invest our precious tax dollars, we must make certain we are putting our money into programs such as high-quality preschool which are proven to save millions of dollars down the road and ensure all children enter school ready to learn and have the opportunity to reach their potential.

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