McAdams said he did not intend to intrude upon traditional school-district roles but to work to expand offerings. These involve programs for children before they enter elementary school as well as after-school programs that could boost the academic skills of students, particularly those in low-income schools.
The potential benefits are well documented, he said.
McAdams cited academic research showing that quality preschool training can shrink the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. More of these students end up in colleges and twice as many obtain high-skill jobs while fewer use drugs or are involved in crime, he noted.
"Doing the right thing is also doing the financially responsible thing," McAdams said, predicting Salt Lake County's return on its $350,000 investment could be 20-to-1. "It would be foolish not to pursue this."
The need for after-school programs is acute, said Rich Landward, Canyons School District's student-support specialist.
He noted that Canyons District operates four after-school programs at elementary schools in Midvale from 3-6 p.m. each weekday, a time period when the city's crime rate increases because kids are not involved in academic, sports or arts programs. "So they're unsupervised, getting into trouble," Landward said. "You have to provide something for these kids because if you don't, they'll fail."
Canyons District had 900 kids in after-school programs last year turning away 150 to 200 at each school. Funding changes will reduce the number next year to 750, increasing the number of kids needing help, he said.
Land broke the dozens of participants into groups to develop a list of ways Salt Lake County could help address problems. One point of consensus was the need to collect good data that supports "evidence-based practices" so systemwide solutions can be implemented uniformly.