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Utah is not the only place where elected officials, educators and parents have been struggling to plan, evaluate and pay for early-childhood education programs that begin the formal learning process before kindergarten.

Widespread confidence that children, especially those in at-risk family situations, need those programs to keep up with their wealthier peers — across town and around the world — is sometimes undermined by studies that suggest whatever benefits are gained from pre-K programs tend to fade within a few years.

But, even while we're trying to work all that out, there is a much easier, less controversial and cheaper step that Utah schools should take. And that's to make all-day kindergarten the norm across the state.

An interim committee of the Utah Legislature took a big step in that direction the other day when it advanced two bills on the subject.

One would kick in another $10 million a year — more than double the current investment — to allow local districts to pay for all-day kindergarten programs for youngsters in at-risk categories. That generally means children in low-income neighborhoods or who are not native English-speakers.

Another would allow local school boards to expand all-day kindergarten to all children, and allow them to charge families who do not fall in the at-risk categories a fee.

Both bills are good ideas. Though a better one, as Sen. Jim Dabakis pointed out at that same committee meeting, would be for the state to cut out the half measures and just allocate the needed funding — maybe $68 million — to make all-day kindergarten standard in public schools statewide.

As lawmakers and state educations officials note, all-day K has been shown to build a student's readiness for the rest of their education. And it is relatively cheap and easy, as the buildings, staff, curriculum, etc., are already in place. No need to reinvent any wheels.

Folks of a certain age may need to be reminded that, unlike when they, or maybe even their children, were in kindergarten, the first year of public school is no longer arranged around crayons and naps. It's real school, with reading and numbers and other stuff that goes way beyond just learning how to stand in line. (Though that's important, too.)

If there are any residual objections to expanded kindergarten being an imposition on family life, then it would be reasonable to offer parents an opt-out.

But the clear benefit to all concerned means that the state should do all it can to get everyone in.