State Policy

Labor Day weekend is in the past, the “heat dome” has cracked, and we are well on our way into the 2022-23 school year. Oh, and the majority of Utah families still have no choice when it comes to their child’s kindergarten program.

Ensuring that all Utah families have access to the type of kindergarten program that is right for their child – be it half-day or full-day – remains a top priority of Voices for Utah Children this school year. The current reality in our state is that most families would prefer to attend optional full-day kindergarten (FDK), but aren’t able to access it at their neighborhood or charter school.

We are proud of the progress we and our many amazing partners have made together over the past several years:

  • From $7.5 million in state funding for optional full-day kindergarten programs in 2018 to $36.7 million available in for the current school year!
  • From fewer than 25% of Utah kids with access to optional FDK in 2018 to more than 40% with access in the current school year!

Nonetheless, Utah remains dead last in the nation in terms of kindergarteners who have access to a full-day program. Most states haven’t seen that low of a rate of participation in FDK for decades.

Many Utah parents want it, many Utah schools want to offer it, but the funding available to expand optional FDK is simply insufficient. As a result, in our state, a family’s home address remains the single greatest determining factor as to whether that family has the chance to participate in an optional full-day kindergarten program.

We believe 2023 is the year to turn this around – by passing legislation that guarantees future education funding for optional full-day kindergarten for as many families as would like to participate.

During the 2022 legislative session, Utah policymakers had the opportunity to pass such a bill: HB193, Full-Day Kindergarten, sponsored by Rep. Steve Waldrip and Sen. Ann Millner.  By the end of the session, however, the original bill had been scaled back in funding, and stripped of critical provisions that supported schools in expanding their optional FDK programs. The additional funding helped many schools increase access to optional FDK, but close to 60% of families still have no chance to participate.

With the support of thousands of Utah families with young children, our coalition partners are determined to pass a legislative solution in 2023 that will do right by all Utah kindergarteners, regardless of where they live in the state. Check out our Fall 2022 Full-Day Kindergarten video below, and visit the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now Coalition website for ideas on how to be part of the solution!

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New Economic Benchmarking Report Finds Utah Ahead of Texas in Most Key Metrics of Economic Opportunity and Standard of Living

Salt Lake City, August 31, 2022 - Voices for Utah Children released today the fifth in its series of economic benchmarking reports that evaluate how the Utah economy is experienced by median- and lower-income families by benchmarking Utah against another state.  This year's report, authored by Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein with support from intern Bryce Fairbanks from the University of Utah Department of Economics, compares Utah to Texas.  While the Economic Opportunity benchmarks come out nearly even, with Utah ahead in 11 and Texas ahead in 8, in the Standard of Living category Utah predominates in 20 categories and Texas in just two.

Voices for Utah Children's Economic Analyst Taylor Throne commented, "It seems clear that Texas has more to learn from Utah than vice versa. In terms of economic opportunity, Utah outperforms Texas for our labor force participation rate and our low unemployment rate (see page 13 of the report). In education, while both states are in the bottom 10 for investment, Utah claims much better 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores. At the university level, Utah invests more and enjoys stronger educational attainment levels (though our younger generation has lost the lead over the nation enjoyed by our older generations.) (See page 17.)  Utah ranks 1st in the nation for our low level of income inequality, while Texas ranks 38th. We also stand out for intergenerational mobility and rank #1 for education funding fairness while Texas ranks 34th (see page 21). In the second part of the report where we measure standard of living. Utah is the clear winner in most measures. Utah enjoys much lower rates of poverty and uninsured children (though both states rank at the bottom for insuring Hispanic/Latino children) (see page 25).The most recent Kids Count overall ranking has Utah 4th and Texas 45th (see page 29). Utah also has shorter commutes, higher homeownership rates, and more volunteerism and voter participation (see page 33)." 

Voices for Utah Children's State Priorities Partnership Director Matthew Weinstein commented, "The main takeaways from this report and the others in the series are that Utah's economic successes put us in a position to make the new upfront investments we need to make now -- in education, public health, poverty prevention, and closing racial/ethnic gaps -- so that we can achieve our true potential and follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Minnesota that have become high-wage states and achieved a higher standard of living, and do it in such a way that all our children can have a better future."  

The report release presentation took place online and can be viewed at https://fb.watch/ffuSPZ09MR/. The presenters included both Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein as well as a special guest, Brandon Dew, President of Central Utah Labor Council.  

View Report

 

Utah's Top Economic Advantages: Hard Work & Strong Families Allow Utah to Enjoy High Household Incomes and Low Poverty 

Can Texas Learn Any Lessons from Utah? 

Utah enjoys a higher real median household income than Texas, ranking #11 nationally, although past inequities have left a legacy of barriers causing significant gaps between the median wage of different racial and ethnic groups.  Utah's higher incomes are due largely to our high labor force participation rates and our preponderance of two-worker (often two-parent) households.  

 real median household income

Even though Texas has a larger GDP per capita and ranks ahead of Utah for business climate, Utah has a higher share of people working and fewer people looking and unable to find work. Utah ranks 1st in the nation for income equality by the GINI Index, 1st for K-12 funding equity, and has fewer people living below the poverty line.

Gini index

Utah is the clear winner by most standard of living measures. The most recent Kids Count overall ranking has Utah 4th and Texas 45th.  Utah also has shorter commutes, higher homeownership rates, and more volunteerism and voter participation. Utah also has a much fairer tax system.  Texas applies one of the highest tax rates in the nation (6th highest) to households with the lowest incomes and applies one of the lowest tax rates (9th lowest) to households with the highest income. This is because Texas has no personal or corporate income tax to offset the regressivity of their major revenue sources: sales, excise, and property taxes.  As a result, Texas is one of the highest-tax states in the nation for lower-income residents, and one of the lowest-tax states for the wealthy.

homeownershi_prates.png

Can Utah Learn Any Lessons from Texas? 

Texas leads in early childhood education for pre-k and full-day kindergarten participation. Texas also has a much smaller gender wage gap than Utah, which ranks as one of the worst states for gender equality. When disaggregated by race and ethnicity, Texas has a smaller gender wage gap than Utah for every race and ethnicity except Latino and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women.

fulldayk

Policy Implications

Strengthening the Labor Force

Utah and Texas are both far below the national average for median (50th percentile) and 10th percentile hourly wages, likely due to the fact that both are among the 20 states that never raised their minimum wages above the 2009 federal minimum of just $7.25 (now at its lowest level since 1956), and both states are among the 27 that discourage union membership through “right-to-work” laws. 

Addressing the Legacy of and Present Barriers Causing Racial & Ethnic Gaps

Racial and ethnic gaps are evident in almost every outcome where race and ethnicity are disaggregated, such as high school graduation rates, wages, gender pay gaps, poverty rates, and uninsured rates. It is important to note that these gaps were caused by social, economic, and political structures and policies that have perpetuated racial inequality, elaborated in our report. Such policies have had very serious consequences for people of color, especially children of color. And as in the rest of the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these hardships. Addressing these gaps through investments in early childhood and K-12 education, specifically where there is a high concentration of children of color (which includes many communities along the Wasatch Front, including Ogden, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, West Valley City, Midvale, and Provo) would likely increase educational attainment, wages, and standard of living overall and would therefore contribute to reducing racial and ethnic gaps in the future.  

Restoring Education Funding Effort

The link between education and income is well-established. States with higher education levels generally have higher levels of worker productivity, wages, and incomes. Voices for Utah Children has demonstrated elsewhere that Utah’s education funding effort has fallen from top 10 in the nation in the 1990s to the bottom 10 states today. While Utah “does more with less” in education compared to other states, will we be able to continue to advance without addressing the underfunding in our public education system? Utah has racial/ethnic educational outcome gaps which are larger than the national average, our pupil-to-teacher ratio is 3rd worst in the nation at 23:1 vs the national average of 16:1, and teacher pay has also fallen by 2% over the past 50 years, while teacher salaries nationally have increased 7%.

At the college level, Utah historically was always ahead of the national average for attainment of bachelor’s degrees and above. But Census data show Utah’s lead shrinking relative to the nation with each successive generation, to the point now that Utah millennials (ages 25-34) have fallen behind their peers nationally, despite relatively generous state support and low tuition levels. In addition, for young adults who do not seek to complete a college degree, apprenticeships and other skilled training programs or ensuring state contracts pay the prevailing local wage are two policies that have proven their value for achieving higher wages.

Can Utah Become a High-Wage State?

Utah has gone from being a low-wage state a generation ago to middle-wage status today, a considerable accomplishment. One question Utah leaders may now wish to consider is, is that good enough? Should we declare, “Mission Accomplished”? Or is Utah in a position, like Colorado and Minnesota before us, to become, over time, a high-wage state and set our sights on taking the necessary steps today to achieve that goal over the years and decades to come?

Chart UT med hrly wage rank 2000 2021

Similarly, how do we include those earning the lowest wages in the gains Utah has made and will potentially make in the future?  Utah is not even a half percentage point lower than the national share of workers earning poverty-level wages and lags behind the nation’s 10th percentile wage, ranking 33rd.  Even as the state with the lowest income inequality ranking in the nation, Utah suffers from a tremendous gap between low-income workers and the rest of the income scale.

The main lesson that emerges from the Working Families Benchmarking Project reports comparing Utah to Colorado, Minnesota, Idaho, Arizona and now Texas is the following: Higher levels of educational attainment translate into higher hourly wages, higher family incomes, and an overall higher standard of living. The challenge for policymakers is to determine the right combination of public investments in education, infrastructure, public health, and other critical needs that will enable Utah to continue our progress and achieve not just steady growth in the quantity of jobs, but also a rising standard of living that includes moderate- and lower-income working families from all of Utah’s increasingly diverse communities.

The 41-page report is available for download here

 

MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE BENCHMARKING PROJECT:

The Spectrum: https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/2022/09/02/report-compares-utah-texas-economy-standard-living-homes-jobs/7970912001/ 

KSL News Radio: https://kslnewsradio.com/1974565/new-report-ranks-utah-above-texas-in-aspects-of-economic-opportunity-and-standard-of-living/

Salt Lake Tribune:  https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2022/09/15/matthew-weinstein-taylor-throne/

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Families living with health insurance, and without: New storybook highlights why all Utah children need health insurance

Throughout the pandemic, health insurance has been a critical lifeline for Utah families to stay healthy and avoid medical debt. Yet many Utah children and parents are still unable to access any form of health insurance; they are denied coverage due to their immigration status. A new digital storybook, released by Voices for Utah Children, highlights families’ real-life experiences with health insurance and medical care. The stories reveal how having health insurance- or not having it- can alter a child’s life course.

The digital book is a collection of accounts shared by children, parents and caregivers across Utah. To protect the privacy and sensitive material shared, names were changed. The book includes accounts of children growing up without health insurance; the short and long-term positive impact of CHIP and Medicaid for children; immigrants and asylees finding the care they need; and children being denied care due to immigration status, while their siblings born in the United States can access care.

The storybook humanizes a problem that is often ignored: today in Utah, thousands of Utah children are still shut out of health coverage. As one DACA- recipient recounts in the book, growing up her families was “Too scared of the cost to go to the ER.”

However, there are glimpses of hope on the horizon. In the 2022 General Session, the Utah Legislature considered a bill that would allow all income-eligible children to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, regardless of their background or immigration status. The bill, sponsored by Senator Luz Escamilla and Representative Mike Schultz, passed the Senate with broad support, but ran out of time in the House.

The book lifts up the stories behind the 2022 legislation. Previous reports from Voices for Utah Children have estimated the significant state savings if all children have coverage. The digital storybook shows the emotional, physical and financial costs families pay when their children are denied health insurance, and the life-changing benefits when families are able to get coverage.

Download Storybook Today!

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This Session, one of Voices for Utah Children’s top priority bills received very little public attention despite its behind-the-scenes activity. Below we will unpack what happened, lessons we learned, and what we believe the path forward should be so we can reach 100% Kids Coverage in Utah.

First a little background, during the 2021 Legislative Session, we were thrilled to see many statements in support of children’s health insurance coverage. Speaker Wilson highlighted children’s coverage and Utah’s high rate of uninsured kids during his opening Session remarks and supported funding for CHIP outreach. On the Senate side, Senator Escamilla championed a bill to Cover All Kids, which former House Leader, Representative Gibson, sponsored on the House side. While the bill did not make it through in the final days of the Session, it seemed well-positioned to pass in 2022.

Onto 2022…

This year Senator Luz Escamilla ran Senate Bill 185. Like her bill last year, SB 185 ensured all Utah children could get covered and stay covered by allowing income -eligible Utah children access to Medicaid and CHIP, regardless of immigration status. In addition, SB 185 restored funding for continuous eligibility for Medicaid children. Senator Escamilla skillfully navigated SB 185, with approval from the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee and broad support on the Senate floor. On the House side, Majority Leader, Representative Mike Schultz, stepped up as the House Sponsor to usher the bill across the finish line. But unfortunately, the bill was never brought to the full floor for a vote in the House.

So what happened this year?

Although SB 185 made it out of the Senate with little objections or pushback, it ran into obstacles in the House. The bill arrived in the House without enough time for a committee hearing. While it could have gone through without one, members of the House did not have the full time to discuss and familiarize themselves with the bill and work through question or concerns.  Although the bill never came to the floor for a full vote, it did have strong bipartisan support. Cover All Kids got even closer this year, but still fell short.

Going forward, we must discuss any questions or concerns directly. We invite lawmakers to join us in having honest conversations about the children we are leaving behind in our state, the children we are deciding not to cover. All children growing up in Utah need health insurance to thrive, regardless of their immigration status. To deny some children access to health care is unconscionable.

It is time we amplify the many voices, the stories, the statewide energy and support for Covering All Kids.  Lawmakers are ready; Utahns are ready. It’s time we act to Cover All Kids.

Learn more about the stories and join our campaign at https://www.100percentkids.health/take-action

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The recent reporting on widespread racism in the Davis School District is not just a wake up call to all Utahns, but the direct result of the legacy we have fostered by leaving racism unchecked, ignored, and accepted. Now is the time to take action. 

We at Voices are committed and prepared to speak up and to work with other organizations to create a Utah where all residents regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or status can live free of hatred, racism, and bigotry.

Here are some of the ways you can help support the actions we are currently working on: 

Our full statement can be found below or downloaded here


 Voices Statement on Racism in Utah Schools and Communities 10 26 21

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More than 18 months ago - right before the pandemic started to truly rock our world - we released "Three Things Utah Can Do to Ensure Right-Sized Access to Full-Day Kindergarten," a wide-ranging report on the status of full-day kindergarten (FDK) programming in Utah. We are very happy to report that Utah has made some impressive gains in terms of FDK access since 2019, despite the enormous disruptions of the pandemic.

These gains, and other helpful information about full-day kindergarten in Utah, are outlined in our new four-page update brief, "Invest in Utah Kids: The Future of Full-Day Kindergarten."

Even with these substantial gains in access and participation, Utah remains well behind the rest of the nation - including all our neighboring states - when it comes to the proportion of kindergarten students able to take part in a full-day program.  Back in 2019, fewerGraph Kparticipation2017 2021 than 23% of Utah kindergarteners participated in full- or extended-day programming - despite strong enthusiasm from educators and strong demand from families. Conversations with educators and parents statewide indicated that the problem was NOT a lack of interest. Rather, school districts and charter schools lacked stable funding to expand their FDK programs to meet community need and interest. 

As the state legislature has slowly increased the amount of funding available through the Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (OEK) program, schools statewide have been able to open more FDK classroom seats to families that wish to utilize this important and effective early learning intervention for their children. In 2021, nearly 30% of Utah children are able to participate in full- or extended-day kindergarten instruction. 

Based on several years of data at both the state and districtGraph KGains2019 level, we understand that FDK is an incredibly effective education opportunity that should be available to as many families that want to participate.

For example, results of the Kindergarten Entry and Exit Profile (KEEP) show that children who participate in full- or extended-day programs make much greater academic gains during their kindergarten school year than those who do not. 

Based on survey data from hundreds of Utahns across the state, we are confident that Utahns support the expansion of FDK programming to ensure that all the families that want to participate are able to do so, regardless of the community in which they live.

Additionally, the majority of registered voters in Utah understand that FDK is a solid educational intervention for children at risk for falling behind academically, and provides greater flexibility for working families. 

68 graphic 1

We will be working hard for the next several years with our many partners in this effort - the United Way of Salt Lake, the Utah PTA, the Utah Charter School Board, the Utah Education Association, and school districts across the state - to ensure that every family that wants to be part of a FDK program is able to do so. That means increased state funding to support stable, sufficient kindergarten programs that truly meet the needs of the communities served by all school districts and charter schools. 

We hope you will join us in this effort, and invite you to download and share this handy four-page brief with your elected officials - including district and state school board members, as well as state legislators - when there are opportunities for action. 

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For years, state leaders have not prioritized the expansion of full-day kindergarten opportunities for interested Utah families. This has resulted in very limited and uneven access to full-day kindergarten across the state. 

Some have justified their lack of action on full-day kindergarten expansion by saying Utahns just aren't interested in having their children participate. They imply that Utah "culture" doesn't prioritize early education opportunities, instead preferring stay-at-home learning opportunities for kindergarten-aged children. 

In the meantime, though, stories swirl of Utah families who move, or lie about where they live, in order to enroll their young children in school districts that offer full-day kindergarten programs. Public education administrators say that when full-day classroom seats are made available in their schools, parents rush to put their children on wait lists. 

So, who is right? What do Utahns really think about full-day kindergarten? This past summer, Voices for Utah Children worked with Y2 Analytics, a Utah-based market research and data analytics company, to find out. 

From June 26 to July 22, 2021, Y2 Analytics surveyed 1,976 Utah voters, randomly sampled throughout the state - including from each of the top eight largest school districts (Alpine, Davis, Granite, Jordan, Washington County, Nebo, Canyons and Weber). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.2 percentage points. 

A strong majority of Utahns support expanding full-day kindergarten programming - even if it means higher taxes. 

 

  • Sixty-eight percent (68%) of surveyed voters said they would "support the expansion of optional full-day kindergarten programs in all public schools throughout Utah." Survey respondents who live in a household with a stay-at-home parent were only slightly less supportive (65%) than those in a household without a stay-at-home parent (69%). Support was strong across counties: 
    • In Davis County, 73% of respondents supported full-day kindergarten expansion (with 43% saying they "strongly support" expansion);
    • In Salt Lake County, 71% were supportive (47% say they "strongly support" expansion); 
    • In Weber County, 65% were supportive (47% say they "strongly support" expansion);
    • In Utah County, 64% were supportive (36% "strongly support");
    • In Washington County, 59% were supportive (37% "strongly support"); and
    • Across all other counties, 67% of respondents said they were supportive (with 38% indicating "strong" support). 
  • Expanding full-day kindergarten programs has broad support across religious and political affiliations. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of all LDS survey respondents said they "support the expansion of optional full-day kindergarten programs," with 69% of those with other religious affiliations and 75% of those with no religious affiliation agreeing. Sixty-one percent (61%) of respondents who identified themselves as conservative were supportive, as were 77% of those who identify as liberals. 
  • Those who are most often responsible for child-rearing are also the most supportive of full-day kindergarten expansion: nearly three-quarters (73%) of all women surveyed were supportive, as compared to about two-thirds (64%) of men. 
  • When asked to "imagine for a moment that in order to fund statewide availability for full-day kindergarten, each resident was required to pay an addition $5 per year in taxes," 69% of those surveyed said they were supportive (40% were "strongly" supportive); only 24% said they were opposed (just 15% were "strongly" opposed). When the tax increase went up to $65 per year, support dropped among respondents - but a strong majority (57%) were still supportive of the idea. 

Utahns have largely positive attitudes toward full-day kindergarten, though some feel they don't know enough about it to have a strong opinion. 

 

  • Three times as many Utah voters (34%) said that full-day kindergarten is better than half-day programs, than those who thought half-day was better (12%). However, slightly more than one-third (34%) said they didn't know how the two options compare to one another. 
  • Fifty-six percent (56%) of those surveyed agree that "full-day programs help to close the achievement gap for underprivileged Utah students." Only 18% disagreed with the statement; 25% were neutral on the question.
  • Sixty-two percent (62%) agreed that "making more full-day kindergarten programs available would benefit the economy by allowing more parents to work during the day." Only 16% disagreed with that statement; 22% were neutral on the question. 
  • Nearly 2.5 times as many voters agreed that "making more full-day kindergarten programs available would improve public education in the state" than those who disagreed.

When it is available to their families, Utahns prefer to participate in full-day kindergarten. 

 

  • Of survey respondents who had children or grandchildren who did not have the chance to go to full-day kindergarten, we asked "would you have enrolled your children/grandchildren in full-day kindergarten if that option had been available to you?" A strong majority (58%) said that they would have if they could have. (Currently, only about 29% of Utah kindergarteners participate in a full-day program, according to the Utah State Board of Education). 

  • Among those who did have the option of enrolling their children in a full-day program, 69% chose to participate. Some reasons that respondents gave for not electing to participate in the full-day program available to them, include:

    • The cost of enrolling in the additional instruction hours (some school districts offer additional enrichment activities in the afternoon for kindergarteners, for an additional cost to the family); and

    • The fact that their children did not score low enough on the Kindergarten Entry and Exit Profile to qualify for full-day programming (in most school districts, full-day kindergarten seats are only offered to students who score below a certain level lack of proficiency in reading and math). 

    • More may have chosen full-day kindergarten if the programming had been free and/or available to all children regardless of academic risk factors. 

The results of our survey help to confirm much of the qualitative data our staff has gathered from school districts and charter schools over the past several years, some of which can be reviewed in our 2020 report, "3 Things Utah Can Do to Ensure Right-Sized Access to Full-Day Kindergarten." Education administrators from school districts across the state say that when families have the chance to enroll their children in full-day kindergarten at no cost, participation rates fall somewhere between 80% and 90%. 

Confirmation of Utahns' interest in and support of full-day kindergarten is an important step in ongoing efforts - by Voices for Utah Children and multiple partner organizations, including United Way of Salt Lake and the Utah PTA - to see kindergarten funded in the same way that all other grades in the K-12 system are funded (via a full WPU for a full-day student). 

Bonus Survey Data: Utahns are REALLY Excited about Preschool! 

  • Ninety percent (90%) of survey respondents see Pre-K education as beneficial - with 51% of respondents saying that preschool is very beneficial. 
  • When we asked those survey participants who are parents, whether they would enroll their child(ren) "in a public in-person preschool if that option were available to you," more than two-thirds said that they would.
    • Seventy percent (70%) of parents with kids who were still too young to attend K-12 school said they would enroll their children in public, in-person preschool if they had the opportunity to do so. 
    • Sixty-six percent (66%) of parents whose kids are already too old for preschool, said they would have enrolled their children if the opportunity had been available to them when their kids were younger.
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