The School Readiness Initiative: An Effective Solution for Utah Kids

05 November 2015 Written by  

Last month, the New York Times published an article praising Utah’s innovative use of Pay for Success social impact bonds to provide at-risk children in Utah with high quality early education, with the financial help of private sector partner Goldman Sachs. Yesterday, the New York Times published a second article challenging the tremendous results this project has produced.

Voices for Utah Children is proud of our role in the initiative and thrilled with the benefits it is producing for children who are fortunate to enroll in the program.

The School Readiness Initiative was informed by the outcomes achieved by the local Granite School District Pre-K program, on which Voices for Utah Children conducted the research, documenting significant and lasting gains in reading and math proficiency. The longitudinal data showed that the Granite Model has dramatically narrowed the achievement gap between low-income children and their peers. And the impact of this high-quality program persists over time; the data show that the achievement students obtained through high-quality Pre-K is still visible as far out as 5th grade. 

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In addition, using a methodology developed by experts in early education and special education, we quantified the savings in special education, showing that investments in high-quality preschool for low-income, at-risk children made good fiscal sense for Utah. This methodology was vetted by special education professionals at local, state and national levels (Council for Exceptional Children) and received support from researchers with expertise in early childhood.

Historically, 17-18 percent of all low-income K-12 students statewide are assigned to special education. Only 3 percent of low-income 3rd graders and 4 percent of low-income 4th graders who attended the Granite School District Preschool Program were assigned to special education.

The children served by the program attend the schools rated most impacted by poverty 1  during a U.S. Department of Education “Early Reading First” grant from 2006-2009. Given tight state and school district budgets, the School Readiness Initiative was developed to give more low-income Utah children access to high quality Pre-K programs. It pioneered implementing Pay for Success as a way to expand access to high-quality preschool for low-income children. While special education reduction is the outcome metric used to repay investors, Utah reaps other benefits not captured in the financing structure, such as increases in academic achievement, reduction in the need for other remedial services, and, according to national research, an expected increase in high school graduation.

Due to the School Readiness Initiative, 750 more Utah kids gained access to high-quality Pre-K in the 2014-2015 school year. And over the next three years, an additional 2,250 children will benefit. This is a big win for Utah kids and families and Voices for Utah Children is proud to be a part of it.


For 30 years now, Voices for Utah Children has called on our state, federal and local leaders to put children’s needs first. But the work is not done. The children of 30 years ago now have children of their own. Too many of these children are growing up in poverty, without access to healthcare or quality educational opportunities.

How can you be involved?

Make a tax-deductible donation to Voices for Utah Children—or join our Network with a monthly donation of $20 or more.  Network membership includes complimentary admission to Network events with food, socializing, and opportunity to meet child advocacy experts. And don't forget to join our listserv to stay informed!

We look forward to the future of Voices for Utah Children and we hope you will be a part of our next 30 years.

Special thanks to American Express for sponsoring our 30th Anniversary Year. Amex


1. Those schools with 80-90 percent of students eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch.

Sara Face Shot BetterSara Gunderson, Office Manager and Executive Assistant, joined the organization in 2007. She has extensive administrative experience, including more than eight years in development at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. Sara received her BS in Psychology at the University of Utah with a coursework emphasis in infant and child development.