New legislation would create a task force to explore options for state-funded preschools in Utah if passed.
Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, presented HB164 to the House Education Standing Committee Jan. 31.
“Utah really has no comprehensive state strategy for early childhood,” Cutler said. “What I would like for this task force to do is give emphasis to how do we better prepare children for kindergarten.”
Utah is one of seven states that does not fund a preschool program. Current pre-kindergarten programs serve roughly 17 percent of eligible children in Utah, according to findings from the State Policy and Research for Education Working Group.
HB164 would create a task force with a one-year span that would review early education in Utah and recommend a comprehensive state strategy for early childhood education.
The task force would comprise a variety of legislators and public officials in the education, health and human service departments.
Cutler said the bill’s goal is to provide preschool opportunities to children whose parents cannot.
“Parents need to be the primary providers. Parents want to be the primary providers,” Cutler said. “We shouldn’t deprive them of being the primary providers if they can.”
Programs created by the bill would not apply to homeschooled children.
Terry Shoemaker, associate executive director of Utah School Boards Association, supports the bill.
“The reason we are supporting this and urge … support to move this task force forward is so the needs associated with those who need better solutions for early childhood can be discussed in a policy way and present options for the legislature in the future,” Shoemaker said.
Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, praised the bill for the funding it would provide to complete research necessary to determine how best to enhance early childhood education in Utah.
Rep. Cutler plans to present the bill to the Utah State Board of Education next week.
The bill passed committee 5-3 on Jan. 31.