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Data show Summit and Wasatch counties face affordability barriers to early education

**ADVANCE FOR RELEASE SATURDAY, APRIL 2, 2011, AT 12:01 A.M. CDT** Angie Clark, a preschool teacher, reads to a group of four and five year old students, at Mitchell Elementary School, Tuesday March 29, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)
FR59669 AP
Summit and Wasatch counties face early education barriers.

Utah is ranked third nationally for overall child well-being this year, according to the annual KIDS COUNT Data Book. That’s down a notch from its second-place ranking in 2023.

The 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book released June 11 ranks states on 16 measures of child well-being and education. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the findings are meant to inform local, state and national discussions on children’s issues.

This year, KIDS COUNT ranked Utah fourth in economic well-being, sixth in education, thirteenth in health and first in family and community.

Martín Muñoz is the KIDS COUNT director at advocacy group Voices for Utah Children, which helps fund the initiative in Utah. He said Utah’s fourth and eighth graders struggle with proficiency in reading in math. According to data from 2022, 63% of Utah’s fourth graders were not proficient in reading, a 60% increase from 2019. Data also shows 65% of eight graders were not proficient in math in 2022.

Utah also faces early education challenges.

“Children ages three and four that are not in preschool, that number keeps creeping up,” Muñoz said. “We've been averaging close to 60% in Utah, that's roughly, you know, 57,000 kids that we could give a next step up in their education career.”

Voices for Utah Children CEO Moe Hickey said some districts do better than others. Park City School District is improving early education availability by expanding its preschool program; renovations will add more than 70 spots for 4-year-olds at McPolin and Jeremy Ranch elementaries this fall.

However, Hickey said the main barrier to early education and child care in Summit and Wasatch counties is affordability. For example, a family of four with two children in Summit County need a median household income of over $126,000 to afford child care, rent and food. Hickey said the average median household income in Summit Countyis over $116,000. That’s the same amount a similar Wasatch County family would need to make ends meet, but the median household income there is just over $94,000.

“Pre-K has an impact,” Hickey said. “Pre-K is a preparation, it's providing the focus for the child. It's providing a safe space to learn and Granite School District, Park City School district, Ogden School District, who expanded their pre-K programs on their own, saw better results than places that didn't have it.”

Hickey said Utah should start investing as early as prenatal care to make sure mothers and babies are healthy and families know how best to take care of their children.

“It's frustrated me for years. The most important years for a child are zero to five, and that's where we have the least investment in the state of Utah by far,” he said. “We either pay for it now or we pay for it later, and later is always more expensive.”

Utah has continually been near the bottom in terms of education investment compared to other states. Hickey said Utah is ranked 49th this year and while the state is working to increase it’s investment, the efforts are only just keeping up with demand.

The Voices for Utah Children team meets with state legislators frequently to discuss ways to support children, but Hickey said lately there have been fewer conversations and the Legislature’s efforts to support kids have been less transparent.

For more information, visit the 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book.