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Proposal to charge fees for optional full-day kindergarten fails in Senate

Parents likely won't have the option of paying a fee to enroll their child in public extended-day kindergarten after the Utah Senate denied a proposal to do just that.
Parents likely won't have the option of paying a fee to enroll their child in public extended-day kindergarten after the Utah Senate denied a proposal to do just that.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Parents likely won't have the option of paying a fee to enroll their child in public extended-day kindergarten after the Utah Senate denied a proposal to do just that.

HB41 would have allowed schools the option of charging the fee to pay for extra hours of instruction required for an extended-day kindergarten program. The program was intended to be optional for families looking for additional learning opportunities for their students.

"Our districts already offer extended-day kindergarten," said Ogden Republican Sen. Ann Millner, the bill's floor sponsor. "We're just allowing another financial mechanism. It's optional for school districts. It's optional for students. It's optional for charter schools, and it's optional for parents."

While the fee would likely be unique to each district, initial legislative projections estimated the extra hours of instruction would cost about $1,400 per student. And because the bill was intended to help low-income students and other at-risk populations, schools would be required to provide a fee waiver for students who qualify.

HB41 passed the House earlier this month in a 47-27 vote, but it failed in an 11-14 vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Some lawmakers weren't comfortable with the idea of tying fees to public education, even if the program was optional.

"This is the first time that I've seen that we constitutionally have a free public education system," said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville. "I'm just wondering if we're unknowingly having an unintended consequence here that may come back to haunt us in the future."

Another repeated concern with the concept is whether the program would really be able to benefit the intended population of low-income and at-risk students. Lawmakers have questioned whether a school district would be able to absorb the cost of many students opting out of paying the fee.

But administrators from the Canyons School District, which originally proposed the new funding mechanism, said that's a challenge they're still willing to work through.

"We are expecting to take a loss on it," Charlie Evans, the district's external relations director, said in a legislative committee meeting last week. "We may find that it doesn't work. We're willing to risk the loss and try it."

Private schools and day care businesses also opposed the bill, fearing it would become "tax-funded competition" in providing some of the same services to families.

Several other bills seeking to expand optional extended-day kindergarten are still being debated by the Legislature.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: MorganEJacobsen