State Policy

This Session, one of Voices for Utah Children’s top priority bills received very little public attention despite its behind-the-scenes activity. Below we will unpack what happened, lessons we learned, and what we believe the path forward should be so we can reach 100% Kids Coverage in Utah.

First a little background, during the 2021 Legislative Session, we were thrilled to see many statements in support of children’s health insurance coverage. Speaker Wilson highlighted children’s coverage and Utah’s high rate of uninsured kids during his opening Session remarks and supported funding for CHIP outreach. On the Senate side, Senator Escamilla championed a bill to Cover All Kids, which former House Leader, Representative Gibson, sponsored on the House side. While the bill did not make it through in the final days of the Session, it seemed well-positioned to pass in 2022.

Onto 2022…

This year Senator Luz Escamilla ran Senate Bill 185. Like her bill last year, SB 185 ensured all Utah children could get covered and stay covered by allowing income -eligible Utah children access to Medicaid and CHIP, regardless of immigration status. In addition, SB 185 restored funding for continuous eligibility for Medicaid children. Senator Escamilla skillfully navigated SB 185, with approval from the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee and broad support on the Senate floor. On the House side, Majority Leader, Representative Mike Schultz, stepped up as the House Sponsor to usher the bill across the finish line. But unfortunately, the bill was never brought to the full floor for a vote in the House.

So what happened this year?

Although SB 185 made it out of the Senate with little objections or pushback, it ran into obstacles in the House. The bill arrived in the House without enough time for a committee hearing. While it could have gone through without one, members of the House did not have the full time to discuss and familiarize themselves with the bill and work through question or concerns.  Although the bill never came to the floor for a full vote, it did have strong bipartisan support. Cover All Kids got even closer this year, but still fell short.

Going forward, we must discuss any questions or concerns directly. We invite lawmakers to join us in having honest conversations about the children we are leaving behind in our state, the children we are deciding not to cover. All children growing up in Utah need health insurance to thrive, regardless of their immigration status. To deny some children access to health care is unconscionable.

It is time we amplify the many voices, the stories, the statewide energy and support for Covering All Kids.  Lawmakers are ready; Utahns are ready. It’s time we act to Cover All Kids.

Learn more about the stories and join our campaign at https://www.100percentkids.health/take-action

Published in News & Blog

This Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Advocacy Convening is for our grassroots partners in the childcare and early education fields, who want to be help build a better child care system to serve Utah families! 

This ECCE gathering will be an interactive, accessible half-day event for parents (and other who are responsible for young children), child care providers, community advocates, and early education advocates from all over Utah.

** For attendees traveling from off the Wasatch Front, free lodging is available for the evening of Friday, April 1, in downtown Salt Lake City. You must register by 12:00 p.m. on March 21 in order to take advantage of this offer. 

LOCATION


  • IN PERSON: Capitol Board Room 204 (2nd Level) at the Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City

  • ONLINE: Zoom access provided in the week prior to the event to registered attendees 

DATE


This training is being held on a Saturday (April 2)  in order to be more inclusive of early education professionals who are busy caring for and teaching children throughout the work week, as well as the working parents who rely on these folks while they themselves are on the job. 

TIME


The training will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. 

SCHEDULE


  • 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. - Breakfast Social with free hot breakfast provided by Elizabeth's Catering 
  • 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. - Welcome and Overview
  • 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. - Panel Discussion with Utah Legislators
  • 10:30 to 10:45 a.m. - Break
  • 10:45 to 12:15 p.m. - Interactive Child Care Advocacy Strategizing for 2022-23 
  • 12:15 to 12:30 p.m. - Free hot lunch served by Elizabeth's Catering
  • 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. - Lunch discussion with Panel of National Child Care Advocacy Leaders
  • 1:15 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. - Small group planning for 2022-23 Advocacy Action
  • 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. - Wrap Up and Appreciations   

There is no cost to attend, but in-person participation is limited. Participants can attend either in person or onlineRegistration must be completed by Friday, March 25.

Register Today

Published in Events

The recent reporting on widespread racism in the Davis School District is not just a wake up call to all Utahns, but the direct result of the legacy we have fostered by leaving racism unchecked, ignored, and accepted. Now is the time to take action. 

We at Voices are committed and prepared to speak up and to work with other organizations to create a Utah where all residents regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or status can live free of hatred, racism, and bigotry.

Here are some of the ways you can help support the actions we are currently working on: 

Our full statement can be found below or downloaded here


 Voices Statement on Racism in Utah Schools and Communities 10 26 21

Published in News & Blog

More than 18 months ago - right before the pandemic started to truly rock our world - we released "Three Things Utah Can Do to Ensure Right-Sized Access to Full-Day Kindergarten," a wide-ranging report on the status of full-day kindergarten (FDK) programming in Utah. We are very happy to report that Utah has made some impressive gains in terms of FDK access since 2019, despite the enormous disruptions of the pandemic.

These gains, and other helpful information about full-day kindergarten in Utah, are outlined in our new four-page update brief, "Invest in Utah Kids: The Future of Full-Day Kindergarten."

Even with these substantial gains in access and participation, Utah remains well behind the rest of the nation - including all our neighboring states - when it comes to the proportion of kindergarten students able to take part in a full-day program.  Back in 2019, fewerGraph Kparticipation2017 2021 than 23% of Utah kindergarteners participated in full- or extended-day programming - despite strong enthusiasm from educators and strong demand from families. Conversations with educators and parents statewide indicated that the problem was NOT a lack of interest. Rather, school districts and charter schools lacked stable funding to expand their FDK programs to meet community need and interest. 

As the state legislature has slowly increased the amount of funding available through the Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (OEK) program, schools statewide have been able to open more FDK classroom seats to families that wish to utilize this important and effective early learning intervention for their children. In 2021, nearly 30% of Utah children are able to participate in full- or extended-day kindergarten instruction. 

Based on several years of data at both the state and districtGraph KGains2019 level, we understand that FDK is an incredibly effective education opportunity that should be available to as many families that want to participate.

For example, results of the Kindergarten Entry and Exit Profile (KEEP) show that children who participate in full- or extended-day programs make much greater academic gains during their kindergarten school year than those who do not. 

Based on survey data from hundreds of Utahns across the state, we are confident that Utahns support the expansion of FDK programming to ensure that all the families that want to participate are able to do so, regardless of the community in which they live.

Additionally, the majority of registered voters in Utah understand that FDK is a solid educational intervention for children at risk for falling behind academically, and provides greater flexibility for working families. 

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We will be working hard for the next several years with our many partners in this effort - the United Way of Salt Lake, the Utah PTA, the Utah Charter School Board, the Utah Education Association, and school districts across the state - to ensure that every family that wants to be part of a FDK program is able to do so. That means increased state funding to support stable, sufficient kindergarten programs that truly meet the needs of the communities served by all school districts and charter schools. 

We hope you will join us in this effort, and invite you to download and share this handy four-page brief with your elected officials - including district and state school board members, as well as state legislators - when there are opportunities for action. 

Published in News & Blog

For years, state leaders have not prioritized the expansion of full-day kindergarten opportunities for interested Utah families. This has resulted in very limited and uneven access to full-day kindergarten across the state. 

Some have justified their lack of action on full-day kindergarten expansion by saying Utahns just aren't interested in having their children participate. They imply that Utah "culture" doesn't prioritize early education opportunities, instead preferring stay-at-home learning opportunities for kindergarten-aged children. 

In the meantime, though, stories swirl of Utah families who move, or lie about where they live, in order to enroll their young children in school districts that offer full-day kindergarten programs. Public education administrators say that when full-day classroom seats are made available in their schools, parents rush to put their children on wait lists. 

So, who is right? What do Utahns really think about full-day kindergarten? This past summer, Voices for Utah Children worked with Y2 Analytics, a Utah-based market research and data analytics company, to find out. 

From June 26 to July 22, 2021, Y2 Analytics surveyed 1,976 Utah voters, randomly sampled throughout the state - including from each of the top eight largest school districts (Alpine, Davis, Granite, Jordan, Washington County, Nebo, Canyons and Weber). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.2 percentage points. 

A strong majority of Utahns support expanding full-day kindergarten programming - even if it means higher taxes. 

 

  • Sixty-eight percent (68%) of surveyed voters said they would "support the expansion of optional full-day kindergarten programs in all public schools throughout Utah." Survey respondents who live in a household with a stay-at-home parent were only slightly less supportive (65%) than those in a household without a stay-at-home parent (69%). Support was strong across counties: 
    • In Davis County, 73% of respondents supported full-day kindergarten expansion (with 43% saying they "strongly support" expansion);
    • In Salt Lake County, 71% were supportive (47% say they "strongly support" expansion); 
    • In Weber County, 65% were supportive (47% say they "strongly support" expansion);
    • In Utah County, 64% were supportive (36% "strongly support");
    • In Washington County, 59% were supportive (37% "strongly support"); and
    • Across all other counties, 67% of respondents said they were supportive (with 38% indicating "strong" support). 
  • Expanding full-day kindergarten programs has broad support across religious and political affiliations. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of all LDS survey respondents said they "support the expansion of optional full-day kindergarten programs," with 69% of those with other religious affiliations and 75% of those with no religious affiliation agreeing. Sixty-one percent (61%) of respondents who identified themselves as conservative were supportive, as were 77% of those who identify as liberals. 
  • Those who are most often responsible for child-rearing are also the most supportive of full-day kindergarten expansion: nearly three-quarters (73%) of all women surveyed were supportive, as compared to about two-thirds (64%) of men. 
  • When asked to "imagine for a moment that in order to fund statewide availability for full-day kindergarten, each resident was required to pay an addition $5 per year in taxes," 69% of those surveyed said they were supportive (40% were "strongly" supportive); only 24% said they were opposed (just 15% were "strongly" opposed). When the tax increase went up to $65 per year, support dropped among respondents - but a strong majority (57%) were still supportive of the idea. 

Utahns have largely positive attitudes toward full-day kindergarten, though some feel they don't know enough about it to have a strong opinion. 

 

  • Three times as many Utah voters (34%) said that full-day kindergarten is better than half-day programs, than those who thought half-day was better (12%). However, slightly more than one-third (34%) said they didn't know how the two options compare to one another. 
  • Fifty-six percent (56%) of those surveyed agree that "full-day programs help to close the achievement gap for underprivileged Utah students." Only 18% disagreed with the statement; 25% were neutral on the question.
  • Sixty-two percent (62%) agreed that "making more full-day kindergarten programs available would benefit the economy by allowing more parents to work during the day." Only 16% disagreed with that statement; 22% were neutral on the question. 
  • Nearly 2.5 times as many voters agreed that "making more full-day kindergarten programs available would improve public education in the state" than those who disagreed.

When it is available to their families, Utahns prefer to participate in full-day kindergarten. 

 

  • Of survey respondents who had children or grandchildren who did not have the chance to go to full-day kindergarten, we asked "would you have enrolled your children/grandchildren in full-day kindergarten if that option had been available to you?" A strong majority (58%) said that they would have if they could have. (Currently, only about 29% of Utah kindergarteners participate in a full-day program, according to the Utah State Board of Education). 

  • Among those who did have the option of enrolling their children in a full-day program, 69% chose to participate. Some reasons that respondents gave for not electing to participate in the full-day program available to them, include:

    • The cost of enrolling in the additional instruction hours (some school districts offer additional enrichment activities in the afternoon for kindergarteners, for an additional cost to the family); and

    • The fact that their children did not score low enough on the Kindergarten Entry and Exit Profile to qualify for full-day programming (in most school districts, full-day kindergarten seats are only offered to students who score below a certain level lack of proficiency in reading and math). 

    • More may have chosen full-day kindergarten if the programming had been free and/or available to all children regardless of academic risk factors. 

The results of our survey help to confirm much of the qualitative data our staff has gathered from school districts and charter schools over the past several years, some of which can be reviewed in our 2020 report, "3 Things Utah Can Do to Ensure Right-Sized Access to Full-Day Kindergarten." Education administrators from school districts across the state say that when families have the chance to enroll their children in full-day kindergarten at no cost, participation rates fall somewhere between 80% and 90%. 

Confirmation of Utahns' interest in and support of full-day kindergarten is an important step in ongoing efforts - by Voices for Utah Children and multiple partner organizations, including United Way of Salt Lake and the Utah PTA - to see kindergarten funded in the same way that all other grades in the K-12 system are funded (via a full WPU for a full-day student). 

Bonus Survey Data: Utahns are REALLY Excited about Preschool! 

  • Ninety percent (90%) of survey respondents see Pre-K education as beneficial - with 51% of respondents saying that preschool is very beneficial. 
  • When we asked those survey participants who are parents, whether they would enroll their child(ren) "in a public in-person preschool if that option were available to you," more than two-thirds said that they would.
    • Seventy percent (70%) of parents with kids who were still too young to attend K-12 school said they would enroll their children in public, in-person preschool if they had the opportunity to do so. 
    • Sixty-six percent (66%) of parents whose kids are already too old for preschool, said they would have enrolled their children if the opportunity had been available to them when their kids were younger.
Published in News & Blog

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We are proud to release a new report on Utah's system for ensuring that all children appearing in juvenile delinquency court are represented by a defense attorney. And we are happy to report that there is some good news to celebrate in this area of our advocacy work! 

In the past two years, the frequency of Utah children appearing in juvenile court without a defense attorney has decreased from about 33% statewide to less than 5%. This new report reveals that Utah children now almost never waive their right to an attorney.

"Who's Helping Kids in Court?" is a follow-up to our 2019 report, "And Justice For All...Kids: A Child's Right to the 'Guiding Hand of Counsel and the State of Defense Representation for Children in Utah's Juvenile Courts," which also explored the issue of whether children in Utah delinquency courts are being given the legal support to which they are entitled. 

Read and/or download the full report here. 

The right of young people to be represented by an attorney in delinquency court proceedings was established in the landmark case In Gault, 387 US 1 (1967). In that case, the Supreme Court articulated that multiple due process rights must be afforded to children who are facing charges in a juvenile court. 

Despite the clearly established rights of young people, both under Gault and in subsequent important legal decisions, many states - including Utah - have struggled for decades to put these promised protections in practice. As this update report shows, though, major policy changes made between 2018 and 2020 appear to have had a very positive impact on the practical fulfillment of Utah children’s right to an attorney.

The key findings presented in this report, for which our team of court observers viewed more than 250 distinct juvenile court hearings across the state, are as follows: 

  • Overwhelmingly, young people appearing in juvenile delinquency hearings did not waive their right to be represented by an attorney.
  • Juvenile delinquency hearings rarely proceeded without defense counsel present, regardless of where the hearing was held in the state.
  • While Utah’s juvenile court judges rarely needed to explain the right to counsel to youth appearing in their (virtual) courtrooms, they regularly reviewed other key rights.
  • Defense attorney attendance at hearings does not necessarily translate into quality legal counsel for the young people they represent.

Children who have a defense attorney almost always have better legal outcomes in delinquency court than those who don’t. Because court involvement can have lifelong impacts for youth, we have worked with many partners over the past two years to pass positive legislation and enact better practices. "Who's Helping Kids in Court?" shows that these changes, particularly the passage of SB32 during the 2019 legislative session, have worked to vastly improve Utah's ability to ensure children receive the legal representation to which they are legally entitled.

SB32, "Indigent Defense Act Amendments," created a “statutory presumption of indigency” for all youth appearing in juvenile court, eliminating for youth and their families the burdensome process of proving that they were poor enough to receive a state-appointed public defender. This means youth are less likely to appear without legal counsel in the early stages of the delinquency process. Early automatic appointment also seems to reduce opportunities for parental/familial influence over a young person’s decision to waive their right to an attorney. SB32 also ensured that youth would be less likely to appear in review hearings, where their progress on court orders is discussed, without their attorney present. SB32 made clear that only in rare circumstances would a judge release a public defender from representing a client before conclusion of the case.

Read and/or download the full report here.

In addition to our primary findings, our report also discusses the following additional conclusions: 

  • Online hearings offer several clear advantages that should be balanced against the legal and practical benefits of traditional, in-person hearings. Improvements must be made, though, to incorporate online hearings as a future option.
    • Management of professionalism, protocol and participation seemed to be a challenge in some online courtrooms.
    • Hearings were often delayed or interrupted due to technical issues.
    • Using a single Webex link for a full day of hearings created confusion, and potentially compromised youth and family privacy in sensitive situations.
    • Online-only hearings may interfere with some judges’ ability to connect with the youth appearing before them.
  • Juvenile court judges’ expertise at interacting with young people - including building rapport, interpreting youth expression and inspiring cooperation - varies widely. Some judges’ inability to communicate effectively with young people may seriously limit their capacity to positively influence children appearing in their courtroom.
  • There appear to be persistent difficulties for youth and families who require court interpreters. These challenges likely create serious equity issues for youth appearing in juvenile delinquency court.

In response to our findings, we make several recommendations in this report for policymakers, for the juvenile courts, and also for youth and their families. Those recommendations, if fulfilled, would build upon the progress Utah is already making in the administration of justice for Utah children who become court-involved. As Utah continues to successfully reduce both the size and the negative impacts of its juvenile justice system, we are pleased to report on this additional area of progress, as well as offer constructive feedback for future improvements. 

Published in News & Blog