Testimony on HB 96 (Utah School Readiness Initiative)

Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs, Sutherland Institute, before the House Education Standing Committee of the Utah Legislature on Feb. 6, 2014, regarding HB 96 – Utah School Readiness Initiative:

Thank you, Mr. Vice Chair and good morning, Representatives. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute. We appreciate Rep. Hughes’ attention to public education and his earnest efforts over the past many years. We have some concerns and a statement to share on this proposed legislation.

Sutherland understands the desire to help truly at-risk children improve their educational opportunities – children whose home situations make it difficult if not impossible for them to prepare for successful academic pursuits. We share that desire, in fact. And we believe such needs are best assessed and efforts to help are most appropriately undertaken at the local level.

As a state-driven, top-down policy instrument, HB 96 must use state-level measures to determine “at risk” status, such as whether a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. By this measure, in 2012 nearly 40 percent of all children in K-12 schools would be considered “economically disadvantaged” and therefore “at risk.” Clearly, the number of truly “at risk” children in need of in-class preschool services does not approach anywhere near four out of every 10 children in Utah. This underscores the point that such determinations are best made at the local level.

Instead of crafting a statewide preschool program that could end up unnecessarily taking many children who are not truly “at risk” out of their homes, Utah should recognize the fact that local school districts are better situated to determine “at risk” status and craft targeted preschool programs for children in need. At the very least, if the state feels compelled to craft a statewide preschool program, it should follow the principle and support the policy articulated in Utah Code 62A-4a-201 (1)(e):

It is the public policy of this state that parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education of their children.

– and do so by expanding in-home preschool options, such as the UPSTART program.

Thank you.