SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's senators dealt a final blow to a plan aimed at creating a private-public partnership to fund preschools for at-risk youth in the state.
On Tuesday the Senate voted down a bill sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, that sought to give parents of a defined group of at-risk children the opportunity to enroll them in a state-funded preschool program. Osmond argued that the program would save the state money in the long run, as it would prevent the need for remedial education later, and it was a proven method to improve education.
"This is a unique opportunity for our Legislature," Osmond said.
Under Osmond's plan the Legislature would call upon the private sector to loan the state $10 million to fund preschool programs. If the programs proved to be successful over time, based on an independent study examining students' test scores, the state would then pay back the private businesses. If the program failed the companies would not recoup their money.
Osmond spoke at length when presenting his bill on the Senate floor as he was hoping to shoot down concerns and rumors that were being aired about his bill in the hallways of the Capitol. Opponents had attempted to characterize his bill as the first step to universal preschool for all children in the state, even though Osmond said he would oppose such a program. Others argued the bill would open up the state to providing preschool to illegal immigrants.
In the bill, 3- and 4-year-old students who test lower than their peers and are learning English as a second language or come from a low-income home could participate in a preschool program from the state. A sliding scale based on family finances would determine how much a family would pay for their child. Parents also would be required to participate regularly in the program.
Osmond's proposal had a slim chance of passing as many conservative lawmakers and activist groups opposed his legislation. Earlier in the week Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, and Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, spoke against the bill, arguing that it was a program looking to remove the education of children from the home.
Dayton in particular voiced concerns about the transparency of the funding for the program and did so again on the Senate floor on Tuesday. Dayton stated that the Legislature has been working hard to be transparent with taxpayer dollars and worried turning funding of a program over to private donors would eliminate transparency. She also went on to state that countries that score high in education do not make their children go to preschool or kindergarten.
"I really have some concerns about what we are doing here," Dayton said.
Groups such as the Utah Eagle Forum, Utahns Against Common Core and the Standard of Liberty Group, which is based in Cedar Hills, also opposed the bill. Republican lawmakers listened to those groups and voted to end the bill's journey.
Only six Republicans, including Osmond, voted in favor of the program. All five Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the bill.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, stated that Utah needs more than a $10 million fix to improve education. He compared the program to passing a hat around and asking corporations to give money to help Utah's schools. Utah could do better, he said.
"We need to begin raising real money and perhaps raise taxes in order to make sure our children get a world-class education," he said.