SOUTH SALT LAKE — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said Monday he is looking to double access to after-school programs in the county and his office will work with the United Way to expand high quality public preschool through private investments.
His remarks came at a county education summit, which gathered community, school and government leaders to network and brainstorm on the subjects of high quality preschool and after-school programs for low-income and at-risk students.
The event also coincided with the appointment of Roderic Land as the county education liaison, a position that McAdams promised to create during his mayoral campaign.
"As a parent and a taxpayer and as an elected official, I know there is no better investment we can make than in the education of our children," McAdams said.
The summit followed last week's announcement by the United Way of Utah that investment firms Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker had committed several million dollars for the creation of a results-based financing model to expand early childhood education for at-risk children.
Under the financing model, similar to one that was proposed at the state level by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, but ultimately failed during the most recent legislative session, private investors would provide the funding for high-quality public preschool through a loan that would be repaid if the program proved succesful at generating educational outcomes and taxpayer savings.
The Granite School District has operated a high-quality preschool program since 2006 that has successfully kept hundreds of at-risk students from requiring costly special education services. McAdams said he was disappointed that the statewide effort failed, but the county has an opportunity to help children academically while also saving potential taxpayer funds alloted to drug prevention, youth service programs and juvenile justice.
"It is a case where by doing the right thing we are also doing the fiscally responsible thing," McAdams said. "In a state such as ours, where education dollars are precious and scarce, I think we’d be foolish not to pursue this opportunity and we’d be derelict in our duty to taxpayers."
McAdams said the county's role in the partnership would be to serve as guarantor of the private sector loans, including repayment based on the efficacy of early intervention at deferring costs.
"What we are funding today is not maybe the smartest thing to fund," he said. "We are funding special education for kids who are behind in math and reading and it would be much smarter for us to fund preschool to make sure they never find themselves in a situation where they are behind in math and reading."
Also during the summit, Rich Landward, student support specialist for the Canyons School District, gave a presentation on the district's after-school program, which just completed its first academic year.
He said the district found that students, particularly those in low-income, single-parent or working parent households, were struggling to complete their homework when they returned home to an empty house.
"From 3 to 6 (p.m.), you’ve got to provide something productive for these kids because otherwise they're going to fail," he said.
The Canyons after-school program, Landward said, begins with a snack, then an hour of homework help from Boys & Girls Club professionals or certified teachers before culminating in an artistic or recreational activity.
"It’s an hour for them really to play, learn conflict management and social skills," he said.
Last year the program served 900 students but this year that number will drop to approximately 750, selected through a lottery process, Landward said. Four elementary schools, in Midvale and Sandy, currently operate the program and Landward said each school turns away between 150 and 200 students.
"The need is tremendous," he said. "We could triple our numbers."
To be succesful, the program relies on the contributions of several partners, including the Utah State Office of Education, the Larry H. Miller Group, the United Way and various local and federal grants.
"To really be successful with after-school programs, you can’t just have one funder," he said. "It’s got to be your entire community."
McAdams said his goal in hosting the education summit was to facilitate dialogue between the various educational entities and service organizations in the county. He sees the county having the role of "convener," helping to break down silos and leading officials to share best practices and work toward common goals.
"It’s my preference that the county doesn’t stray far from our core mission," McAdams said. "We’re financially interested in kids being successful in schools but we’re not a preschool provider."
At the time of the United Way's announcement, Lloyd C. Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, released a statement praising the results-based financing model, which is reportedly the first of its kind in the United States.
"Access to early education gives children a foundation they will build upon throughout their education and beyond," he said. "Through this innovative financing, we are pleased to partner with J.B. Pritzker and United Way of Salt Lake to provide the opportunity to thousands of children who otherwise may not have been able to attend preschool."