Advocates in Utah have helped secure an additional $5 million in funding for full-day kindergarten (FDK) in the state. The new funding will provide access to FDK for nearly 3,000 more Utah children, a 6% increase. Though the funding increase was threatened during significant cuts to the state budget in the most recent special session, advocates won the fight to preserve the funding, helping districts meet the growing demand for full day kindergarten in the state.
Our allies at Voices for Utah Children and United Way Salt Lake have been pushing for expanded full-day kindergarten funding for years. By collecting and distributing data from parent surveys, local education agencies, and student assessment scores, they have developed a strong case for the value and demand for FDK.
Voice’s January 2020 policy brief 3 Things Utah Can Do to Ensure Right-Sized Access to Full-Day Kindergarten outlines the case for expanded access that was used to advocate for the expansion.
The state currently provides funding for all students to attend half-day kindergarten, with limited additional funds available through the Optional Extended Day Kindergarten program. Based on a survey of Local Education Agencies, many districts cannot meet families’ demands for FDK due to a lack of stable funding, classroom space, and (less often) a supply of qualified educators. As a result, only 20% of Utah children, including 30% of children from families experiencing poverty, attend FDK compared to 80% of children nationwide. Results from the state’s Kindergarten Entry and Exit Profile assessment show that students who enter kindergarten at a low proficiency level are significantly more likely to improve if they participate in Optional Extended Day Kindergarten.
Using these arguments, Utah advocates have focused on growing their coalition of supporters to include educators, business leaders, and lawmakers, as well as expanding their grassroots efforts with parents and teachers. These relationships allowed them to quickly adjust their advocacy efforts as funding was threatened this summer, reaching out to partners in the legislature and on the state board of education, as well as parents, teachers, and community members through action alerts to their listserv.
“Preserving this funding during the special legislative session with significant cuts to the state budget is a big win for Utah kids. We were able to do in-the-moment advocacy due to our consistent messaging and efforts to build a large coalition of support throughout the state.”
Senior Director, Government Relations and Public Policy
United Way Salt Lake
While there is still a long way to go before every child in Utah has access to state-funded full day kindergarten, this new funding is a step in the right direction, and advocates in the state will build on this year’s efforts as they plan their next steps.