Utah High Quality Preschool Program

The Problem

Utah school districts and advocates had concerns about the achievement gap and high need for special education services among children from low-income families: Utah is one of only 10 states that did not have a state-funded preschool program in 2013-14, and a public option for preschool funding was defeated in the Utah state legislature in 2013There is evidence that high-quality preschool can help reduce gaps observed at kindergarten entry. In the absence of a state-funded preschool program, school districts were funding programs using Title 1, other grant, and tuition dollars, but the funding level was not deemed sufficient to meet the need

The Basics

Location: Park City School District and Granite School District, UT

Policy area: Early childhood education

Population served: 3,500 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for the federal free or reduced lunch program 

Service providers: Granite School DistrictPark City School DistrictGuadalupe SchoolYMCA of Northern Utah, Children's ExpressLit'l Scholars

Size of investment: $7 million

Investors: Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group (up to $4.6 million seniors loans), J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation (up to $4 million subordinate loans)

Intermediaries: United Way of Salt LakeVoices for Utah Children

Evaluator: Dr. Mark Innocenti, Center for Persons with Disabilities, College of Education and Human Services, Utah State University

Evaluation methodology: Single-group design tracks students' academic achievement levels from grades K-6 to determine if they utilize special education services using verified administrative data.

Outcome payors: United Way of Salt Lake, Salt Lake County, the State of Utah

Outcomes that yield payments: Avoidance of special education services in grades K-6 among preschoolers at the highest risk of later needing special education services (students who score under 70 on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at the start of preschool are considered "highest risk")

Timeframe: 4 year service delivery term; 12 year repayment term and evaluation period

Project start: September 2013

Photo via Shutterstock.

The Intervention

Intervention: The Utah High Quality Preschool Program delivers half-day classes, two days a week for 3-year-olds and four days a week for 4-year-olds. The goal is to increase children's school readiness and later academic performance. The model relies on highly qualified staff who receive ongoing professional development support, and who address all areas of children's development using a high-impact, research-based curriculum.

Evidence base behind the intervention: A longitudinal study published in 2011 of three cohorts of children who received this program's services in the 11 Granite School District (UT) preschools most impacted by poverty showed that the students at highest risk for school failure (measured through a score of less than 70 on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at age 4) were very unlikely to be assigned to special education services in elementary school. Findings from the longitudinal study also suggest that the preschool program can help address the academic achievement gap (reading and math test score differences) between schools most- and least-impacted by poverty. 

Effectiveness of this intervention for the target population had been evaluated, and the service provider had partly provided this intervention previously.