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Opponents of a bill in the Utah Senate that would pay for a few more at-risk children to attend pre-kindergarten classes are living in a world that doesn't exist in reality.

Cherilyn Eagar, an unsuccessful congressional candidate and ardent conservative, said allocating more money for Utah's meager pre-K program for children from low-income homes would be "throwing money down a rat hole." Her shortsightedness is startling, and her lack of compassion is alarming. Her alternative solution to the problem of so many youngsters already lagging behind their peers when they start first grade — to let churches and community groups worry about it — is so wrongheaded as to be ridiculous.

If preparation for elementary school is not a valid concern of the educational system in a state, what on earth is?

And the arguments presented by Peter Cannon, a member of the Davis County School Board, that "God placed children here in the care of a mother and a father, not a government," and "It's not the place of public education over the next 100 years to take children earlier and earlier from the home and put them under government indoctrination," show a surprising naivete, even for an arch-conservative, and especially for an elected official in a position to make policy based on such drivel.

Few parents of any religious background have the expertise — or the time and patience — to teach young children the basic principles of language and numbers, the understanding that can help put them on the same academic level as their classmates.

"Every argument to take youth into government education earlier and earlier is always accompanied by stacks and stacks of government studies," Cannon went on.

In that, he is correct.

There are stacks of studies, and one prime example right here in the Beehive State, that show children, especially those from disadvantaged homes, are helped enormously by early-childhood education.

The sponsor of SB71, Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, explained that Utah State University's study of a program in the Granite School District reduces the number of students who need expensive remedial instruction as they advance through school. Utah now spends hundreds of millions of dollars to make up for the lack of pre-kindergarten programs.

SB71 has one defect: It doesn't go far enough. Pre-kindergarten programs should be available to all children.

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