Utah Senate OKs full-day kindergarten bill, school officials mull expansion
SALT LAKE CITY — With Senate approval of a measure meant to expand full-day kindergarten in Utah schools, officials from the Weber, Ogden and Davis school districts are excited about the possibilities.An advocate who pushed for the legislation, meantime, expects “several hundred new FDK classrooms” in Utah in the 2023-2024 school year thanks to the legislation. Gov. Spencer Cox still has to sign House Bill 477 into law, but his administration “has been a vocal supporter of full-day kindergarten,” said Anna Thomas with Voices for Utah Children — and she expects action.
Weber School District spokesperson Lane Findlay said school officials will wait for the bill to be signed into law before taking action, but they’re looking into the possibilities. “Discussions are already taking place on how we can accommodate it at each school. Overall, we’re in pretty good shape to bring this on,” he said Friday.
Ogden School District has been a leader in Utah in implementation of full-day kindergarten offerings, and superintendent Luke Rasmussen spoke about the importance of an expanded day for young students, particularly those from lower-income families. In the 2021-2022 school year, 34% of Utah kindergarteners overall had access to full-day school offerings compared to 88.2% in the Ogden system and 82% nationwide, according to Utah Full Day Kindergarten Now, which has pushed for change.
“As a Title I district, a concerning number of our students enter kindergarten below the standard educational level for children their age. Full-day kindergarten boosts the chances for these students to improve their foundational literacy and numeracy skills so they can enter first grade on a path for success rather than spending years continually trying to catch up to their peers,” Rasmussen said.
Many schools offer only partial-day kindergarten or a mix of partial- and full-day kindergarten.
The Utah Senate on Wednesday approved H.B. 477 in 24-3 vote, which creates the mechanism to fund full-day kindergarten across Utah, putting it on the path to Cox’s office for his consideration. According to the H.B. 477 fiscal note, full roll-out of full-day kindergarten would cost an estimated $60.64 million a year, factoring savings from eliminating another program that the new one would replace.
Thomas, a policy analyst with with Voices for Utah Children, part of the Utah Full Day Kindergarten Now coalition, is thrilled with Senate passage of H.B. 477.
“We estimate that next school year (2023-24), somewhere between 60% and 65% of Utah kindergarteners will be able to participate in a full-day kindergarten class,” she said in an emailed message. That’s up from the 34% estimate for the 2021-2022 school year and takes into account the “several hundred” new full-day classrooms she expects to emerge.
Like Weber officials, Davis School District will look into expanding full-day kindergarten offerings. Principals at 35 elementary schools in the Davis system had expressed interest in launching full-day kindergarten offerings, on top of 12 schools where it is already offered.
“After the district finds out what sort of funding it will receive for full-day kindergarten, then it will move forward to determine how far and wide the program could expand,” said Chris Williams, Davis School District spokesperson.
Thomas said bearing on roll-out of full-day kindergarten will be availabilty of classroom space to accommodate the augmented offering and ability to hire the needed teachers and staff. Though full roll-out has an estimated $60.64 million price tag, she thinks about $25 million will be enough in the 2023-2024 school year given the limited number of schools that will offer it at first.
“We are certain that there will be — as usual — more families interested in full-day kindergarten than will be able to participate. This will be the case for at least a few years,” Thomas said.
Uptake may be slowest in the larger systems, like the Alpine, Davis and Jordan school districts, she said, as they will likely need to make the most significant adjustments to allow for expanded offerings. “Depending on each district’s commitment to expanding their full-day kindergarten programs, it make take anywhere from three to five years for ALL families in these districts to have the option to attend full-day kindergarten,” she said.
Findlay said limited spacing in Weber schools may hamper the ability to quickly expand full-day kindergarten offerings. The opening of a planned new elementary school in West Haven in 2024, though, ought to ease those issues.
The Ogden School District has been tapping other revenue sources to provide its more robust full-day kindergarten offerings relative to other Utah systems. “With the state providing additional funding to support full-day kindergarten programs, we could potentially reallocate some funding to other areas of need,” Rasmussen said.