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Optional full-day kindergarten could be expanded statewide next year, but some families would have to pay a fee to participate.
A bill by Santa Clara Republican Rep. Lowry Snow calls for an additional $10 million to provide full-day kindergarten funding for more than 7,000 at-risk students.
The state appropriates $7.5 million for full-day kindergarten, which serves roughly 5,400 Utah children.
"Almost without exception," Snow said Thursday, "every [school] district has indicated a strong interest in participating in this."
But higher-performing children, and those living in affluent homes, also may have the opportunity to attend full-day kindergarten for a price.
A second bill by state Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, would authorize school districts to create a fee schedule to make full-day kindergarten available to all students.
"This allows the district to come up with [its] own funding source," Eliason said. "All children, regardless of their ability to pay, are eligible to participate if their families desire."
Both bills were adopted unanimously by the education interim committee on Thursday. The support of the committee, which consists of lawmakers in both the Utah House and Senate, puts the proposals in a favorable position in the lead-up to the 2016 session, which begins in January.
But state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, urged his colleagues to take the bills further by fully funding extended-day kindergarten for all students.
He said the program has proved successful, helping to overcome opportunity gaps and prepare students for early elementary grades.
Lawmakers should "bite the bullet," he said, and offer the option of full-day kindergarten free of charge to all children independent of ability and income.
The cost of statewide full-day kindergarten, according to legislative staff, is roughly $68 million.
"Let's go for full-day, absolutely every kid in the state," Dabakis said. "We just need enough courage to dump the incremental [approach] and do what is right."
Snow said an additional $10 million would help school districts focus initially on those students lacking in academic preparation.
"My objective was to get started as soon as possible to address what I think is the most pressing need," he said.
Eliason said his bill does not require school districts to charge parents for kindergarten programs, but provides the option of recouping costs.
He said the bill prohibits districts from making a profit from kindergarten fees, but could aid in the expansion of programs where revenue is not available.
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