Early Education

Child care certainly received its fair share of discussion this legislative session, but did anything really happen? The short answer is kinda. Here’s what happened.

Funding Requests

During the session, Voices for Utah Children teamed up with parents, child care professionals, and early childhood advocates to lobby the state legislature for more than $260 million to stabilize Utah’s child care system. This was, admittedly, a big ask. But the requests highlighted the reality of the child care sector’s needs. Many of the state funding requests aimed to replace expiring federal pandemic money that has been propping up the sector. This emergency federal funding will begin to end in June 2023 and will fully expire by June 2024. 

Child Care Stabilization Grants, Rep. Andrew Stoddard
Federal Child Care Stabilization Grants have been a lifeline for Utah's child care sector. Child care providers have indicated the lack of ongoing stabilization funding will result in one or more of the following three outcomes: child care programs will close, tuition will be raised for families, and/or employees will have lower wages. This funding would have allowed for a one-year extension of the stabilization grants currently received by hundreds of child care providers in Utah. 
Requested: $216 Million
Outcome: NOT FUNDED

Retention Incentives for Early Childhood Professionals, Sen. Luz Escamilla
In 2022, federal funding allowed Utah's Office of Child Care issued $2,000 bonuses to eligible workers serving in child care positions to provide recognition for their critical work throughout the COVID pandemic and to improve retention within the field. 9,368 child care professionals received retention incentives through this program. This funding request would have continued this incentive program for an additional two years while structural reforms were pursued. 
Requested: $38 Million
Outcome: NOT FUNDED

Regional Child Care Development Grants, Rep. Ashlee Matthews 
Through federal funding, Utah's six Regional Care about Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies supported new programs for rural outreach, small business training, start-up grants, and professional development. This funding would have continued these grants for another three years to continue programming that works to expand child care access and improve care in both rural and urban areas.
Requested: $2.1 Million
Outcome: NOT FUNDED

Child Care Licensing-Related Fees, Rep. Ashlee Matthews
With COVID-relief funding, the Office of Child Care Licensing has waived the fees associated with licensing in order to lessen the barriers to expanding, maintaining, and opening new child care programs. This funding would have extended this fee coverage for another three years as the state tackles the child care crisis. 
Requested: $3 Million
Outcome: NOT FUNDED

Child Care Solutions and Workforce Productivity Plan, Sen. Luz Escamilla
A priority of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity’s Women in the Economy  Subcommittee, these funds will support strategic planning for child care solutions.
Requested: $250,000
Outcome: $150,000

Legislation

HB 167: State Child Care, Rep. Ashlee Matthews & Sen. Luz Escamilla
This bill provides the framework for State agencies to convert empty state buildings to on-site child care. It will allow private providers to rent the space and operate from the facility, creating greater access to child care for employees and the greater community.
Outcome: PASSED

HB 170: Child Tax Credit Revisions, Rep. Susan Pulsipher & Sen. Daniel McCay
This bill provides a non-refundable yearly tax credit of $1,000 per child between the ages of 1-3 for families making up to $43,000 for single filers and $54,000 for households filing married jointly. Because the bill’s original intent was to help with the cost of child care, we’d like to see this expanded to help children ages 0-6, as it did in the original bill. This legislation makes Utah the 13th state with its very own state child tax credit.
Outcome: AMENDED VERSION PASSED 

HB 282: Child Care Sales Tax Exemption, Rep. Christine Watkins
This bill would have allowed for a sales and use tax exemption for construction materials used to construct or expand a child care program.
Outcome: BILL NEVER HEARD IN COMMITTEE

Advocacy

While our policy wins feel small, it was a stellar year for child care advocacy. We hosted our first Child Care Advocacy Day, where we welcomed over 100 parents, kiddos, providers, and supporters of child care in Utah’s Capitol Rotunda! The turnout far surpassed expectations and we hosted many new faces. We look forward to continuing to grow our network of child care advocates and working on solutions to child care during the interim. 

  

To learn more about child care advocacy in Utah, visit UtahCareforKids.org.

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Congratulations, Utah parents and educators! Together, we did it. Funding for optional full-day kindergarten is now a reality for schools statewide. 

The Utah Legislature passed HB477, "Full Day Kindergarten Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove (R-Sandy). This bill establishes the same flexible, stable funding stream for full-day kindergarten as currently exists for all other grades of public school, first through twelfth. Last week, Governor Spencer Cox signed this historic bill into law! 

(Click here to jump to our four-minute explainer video, which is also included at the bottom of this page)

Does this mean that next school year, every family in Utah will have the opportunity to enroll their kindergartner in a full-day program in their neighborhood school? Unfortunately, no. It DOES mean that the number of families who will have access to full-day kindergarten will increase dramatically - we estimate between 60% and 65% of kindergarteners will be able to enroll in an optional full-day program during the 2023-24 school year. This is is a huge leap from fewer than 25% just five years ago!

The passage of HB477 means that next school year (2023-24), every district and charter elementary school will have the opportunity to offer optional full-day kindergarten, using this new state funding stream. 

In order to offer more full-day kindergarten, schools must have more classroom space, more teachers, and more equipment like tables and chairs. Some school districts and charter schools have spent the last several years making plans to overcome these challenges, and will be ready to offer optional full-day kindergarten to most, if not all, of their local families in the coming school year. 

Some elementary schools are not quite ready to take advantage of this opportunity. These schools will need some time to overcome the challenges of: 1) limited classroom space; 2) recruiting new teachers; 3) purchasing new materials and equipment; 4) busing adjustments; and other practical issues. This is true particularly in some of our large, suburban school districts, such as Jordan, Davis and Alpine. Other small- and mid-size districts face some of these issues, as well. 

We estimate that it will take between three and five years before all Utah families have the opportunity to enroll their child in a full-day kindergarten program. Based on the popularity of newly expanded full-day programs in different parts of the state, we expect to see more than 90% of parents opt for full-day kindergarten for their children when it becomes available to them. 

The best way to find out whether your local elementary will be offering optional full-day kindergarten during the 2023-24 school year is to contact the current principal of that school (or the director, in case of charter schools) and ask them directly! Not only will this help you to plan for your family's schooling schedules, but it will help our local education leaders assess how much community interest exists for more optional full-day kindergarten. 

In case you were worried, the new law preserves parents' right to enroll their child in a half-day program, and does not make kindergarten mandatory. There is nothing in the law that tells districts and charters how much optional full-day kindergarten they must offer to their communities, or how soon they have to do so. HB477 was created to be as flexible as possible, allowing local communities to decide the right mix of half- and full-day programming for them. 

Thanks to all the hard work of education leaders, insistent parents and committed community advocates, we have finally accomplished state funding for optional full-day kindergarten in Utah! We especially appreciate the commitment of the United Way of Salt Lake and the Utah PTA, our core partners in the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now Coalition.

Of course, this would not have happened without the support and leadership of State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson, Sara Wiebke, Christine Elegante and other superhero staff at the Utah State Board of Education. We owe a lot to our bill sponsor, Rep. Spendlove, and the other legislative champions like Senator Ann Millner who have been key to this effort in the past (former Reps. Lowry Snow and Steve Waldrip, we are looking at you!). 

Published in News & Blog

To date, the state legislature’s minimal efforts to address Utah’s complex child care crisis are completely out of proportion to the scope of the problem

None of those efforts have offered much relief for Utah families with young children who are struggling with the rising cost of child care. They certainly don’t contemplate the urgency of the impending “federal funding cliff” that is about to push child care costs even further through the roof. 

Policy proposals that require a meaningful investment of state dollars - and pretty much all the effective ones will - have been ignored by elected officials. 

Before the session ends on March 3rd, however, the legislature has a chance to pass legislation that would actually provide financial relief for some families with young children. 

Yes, it will require state investment - but the one kind of investment that legislators seem most enthusiastic about: a tax cut!

Well, a tax CREDIT, which is sort of like a tax cut for the Utahns who qualify. 

Representative Susan Pulsipher (R-South Jordan) has introduced a narrowly-tailored Child Tax Credit, which would allow families to claim up to an extra $1,000 per child each year, to help cover a small portion of the staggering costs of caring for a child. Families that make more money can claim a smaller amount, on a sliding scale. 

The bill is House Bill 170: Child Tax Credit Amendments (originally named "Child Care Tax Credit Amendments). It has only recently moved forward in the legislative process, after its initial introduction in mid-January. With just a couple of weeks left in the session, there is still a chance that this tax credit - with a price tag of less than $41 million - could be included in whatever tax package the legislature inevitably passes. 

Rep. Pulsipher’s goal is to help families who still struggle to afford the costs of raising young children. 

The money they save with this tax credit can be used by families in any way that works for them. If a parent stays home, it can help cushion the financial burden of having a one-income household. If both parents work, it can be used to cover the costs of child care while they are working. 

There are a few catches, though:

  • This $1,000 tax credit can only be claimed for children who are under the age of six at the time you file your taxes. Child care costs go way down for a family once a child is enrolled in school. 
  • In order to be eligible, your household must meet certain household income requirements (for example, a household with a joint filing status must be less than $54,000 to quality for the full amount of the credit).
  • If your family makes more than a certain amount of money, you can still claim this tax credit, but it is phased out based on your household income. 
  • If you don’t end up owing any income taxes when all the math is said and done, you won’t get a check in the mail from the state for each child. This tax credit would be “non-refundable.” That means the tax credit can only be used to put a dent in the income taxes you owe; it can’t put extra money in your pocket if your income taxes calculate down to zero. 
  • You won’t be able to claim the tax credit THIS YEAR. Or even next year. It would go into effect when you file your 2024 taxes in 2025. 

Even with these strict parameters, we think having a Child Tax Credit available for some Utah families is a great step toward grappling with our state’s child care problems in a meaningful way. 

HB170 offers legislators an opportunity to show they are willing to invest in families with young children in the face of a crisis that is about to get a lot worse. We hope they take it!

Write to your legislators about HB170 “Child Tax Credit Amendments!”

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