Utah’s public schools missed out on a fantastic opportunity this year. 

As a parent, I was excited this past session for HB193, sponsored by Republican leaders Rep. Steve Waldrip and Sen. Ann Milner, that would have expanded access to optional full-day kindergarten for all Utah families. The bill requested funding to be rolled out over three years — $23 million in year one and $12 million more in years two and three — to give local education authorities time to grow their programs.

Support for HB193 was strong and bipartisan. With enthusiasm all around, the bill passed easily through the House of Representatives. I listened as every commenter — parents, district superintendents and state superintendent Sydnee Dickson — spoke in favor. HB193 was well-positioned to pass the Senate, too.

Then suddenly, it fell apart. The Executive Appropriations Committee slashed the funding to a mere $12.2 million. A new version of the bill emerged that barely resembled the original, providing only limited funding, with no promise of future expansion. Only a few local education authorities would be able to expand their full-day programs to serve more Utah children. 

My kids’ school planned to offer full-day kindergarten next year if HB193 passed. We were to be part of the first phase of expansion in Alpine School District. When our principal notified our PTA about this possible change, parents in the room were excited and relieved.  Kindergarten teachers talked about how they could teach not only math and literacy more fully, but also spend more time on the fun stuff, including social studies, science and playtime. More full-day kindergarten would be a solution to so many issues. 

Due to the dramatic scaling down of HB193, our school will not be able to offer full-day kindergarten — along with hundreds of other elementary schools across Utah. The disappointment is profound. This is a lost opportunity for tens of thousands of kindergartners and their families. 

My principal’s words reflect educators’ ongoing commitment to provide the best education no matter what: “Our teachers and staff will, of course, work diligently to assure the success of students. But time is something that cannot be replicated despite their most valiant efforts. My greatest hope and wish is still that the gift of time will be awarded for our children.” 

Full-day kindergarten is a time-tested, proven educational approach. I attended full-day kindergarten 40 years ago in North Carolina. Today, more than 80% of children in the United States attend full-day kindergarten; only 30% of Utah children are able to. 

I realize that many Utah families love half-day kindergarten. In fact, my family has been one of them. I was able to offer my six kids support, activities and academics outside of their half-day kindergarten hours. But that is not the reality for most students at our school, and at many others. I live in a part of Orem with many at-risk children in high-need families. Full-day kindergarten gives support to those families and kids. 

Utah has the ability to fund full-day kindergarten. Consider that another bill proposed a voucher program — something Utah voters have shown they don’t support — that would have cost $36 million annually. (It didn’t pass.) Additionally, this year’s much-touted income tax cut (which saves the average Utahn $8 per month) cost $180 million, taken directly from Utah’s education fund. 

I strongly believe that if we truly value something, we will prioritize it and find ways to pay for it. Utahns consistently say they prioritize education, family and the well-being of children. We need to match our legislation and funding with our priorities.

It’s time for Utah residents and legislators to provide access to full-day kindergarten for all the families that want it. Let 2023 be the year that Utah proves it values education and children. 

Cissy Rasmussen lives in Orem and is the mother of six children. She volunteers with PTA, School Community Councils and Utah Parents Involved in Education.