Statewide non-profit organizations met at the Utah Capitol Monday to show support for early childhood education and childcare programs.
Advocates for early childhood education and childcare gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to express their support, including Abby Cox, the wife of Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
“We talk about infrastructure and maintaining a high quality of life in our state," Cox said. "Nothing could be more important than building the infrastructure of our early childhood education system.”
The theme of the event was “It Matters.” Kristen Schulz, coordinator for the Park City-based Early Childhood Alliance, says access to early childhood resources is important to the workforce and parents as well as for brain development and for closing the achievement gap. While some programs exist locally for young children, Schulz says advocates want to elevate the issue as a statewide priority.
“Our group is really focused on the Wasatch Back, but I would say this group today is focused on kind of putting our arms around all of the kids in Utah, and really letting our legislators know it matters to us and it matters to the state as a whole,” Schulz said.
The Early Childhood Alliance was initially formed as a task force through the Park City Community Foundation. The alliance targets opportunities for children from birth to three years old and features representatives from organizations such as PC Tots, the Park City Education Foundation, Holy Cross Ministries and the Park City School District. Schulz says one of the biggest barriers to accessing early education and childcare on the Wasatch Back is cost.
“Parents want the absolute best for their kids and do everything that they can to try to provide those opportunities for their kids," Schulz said. "But the reality is it's very hard with working parents to find affordable and accessible, high-quality childcare.”
Schulz says research shows kids’ brains are nearly completely developed before they start school and ensuring kids’ success isn’t as simple as keeping kids healthy until they’re dropped off at kindergarten at age five.
“It's not just literacy and numeracy, it's your social-emotional skills, it's your executive functioning, it's your ability to handle stress," Schulz said. "It really is a critical stage of life.”
Utah does have its own early childhood program within the state Department of Health. Its goal is to support children’s health and wellbeing so they’re ready to learn when they enter school.