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The UPSTART online preschool program is set to expand again after securing a $2 million grant from the Utah Board of Education.
That funding is in addition to a $2 million UPSTART expansion approved by lawmakers in January, vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March and restored by lawmakers during a special session in May.
Waterford Institute, which administers UPSTART, announced the Board of Education grant on Wednesday, adding that its combined state funding will allow up to 10,000 Utah children to enroll and use the software program for free.
In a prepared statement, UPSTART Executive Director Claudia Miner said the program has proven to be one of the most successful kindergarten-readiness tools in the state.
"UPSTART is all about supporting the family in preparing young children for kindergarten and a love of learning," she said.
With the Board of Education grant, UPSTART's total annual funding from public sources is roughly $8.7 million, up from $4.7 million in 2015.
Students are expected to use the program for 15 minutes each day, five days a week, and some eligible families receive free computers and internet access.
UPSTART software also is available for private purchase through Waterford Institute.
In March, Herbert cited a desire to avoid redundancy between public preschool initiatives when he included an UPSTART expansion in several line-item vetoes to the state budget.
Among those initiatives is SB101, a $10 million grant program for high-quality preschool that directs the Board of Education to award $2 million to home-based providers like UPSTART.
After lawmakers restored Herbert's vetoes in special session, UPSTART successfully bid for the SB101 funding.
"The governor has always indicated that UPSTART could receive additional funding through SB101," said Jon Cox, Herbert's spokesman. "Today's actions certainly reflect that."
UPSTART's grant through SB101 relies on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, funds, and will include three annual payments of $2 million, according to Waterford Institute spokesman Cory Maloy.
Priority enrollment is given to low-income families and children whose first language is not English, and evaluations by the Utah State Office of Education have shown increased kindergarten readiness among participating students.
"With the additional allocation, Utah will be able to serve even more preschool-aged students and support them in building a solid foundation for school readiness," said Jennifer Throndsen, a literacy coordinator for the Utah State Board of Education.
Waterford Institute created UPSTART in 2008 with the help of $2.5 million from the Utah Legislature, and influential lawmakers continue to be vocal proponents of the program.
"There is no question that UPSTART is giving Utah great and economically viable results," Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in a prepared statement.