During the 2021-22 school year, only about 34% of Utah kindergarteners participated in a full-day program - compared to the nationwide average of 82%. That low participation rate was due to limited and inequitable access to optional Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) across the state.
Participation in optional FDK has grown in recent years, as the legislature slowly increased available funding through various grant programs.
In 2023, the state established a new, stable funding source that will ensure FDK can be funded the same way other elementary school grades are funded.
Even with this much-needed funding stream established, it will be a few years before all Utah families have a real choice in the type of kindergarten programming that is right for their children.
Note: Kindergarten enrollment is still optional in Utah. This is true in the majority of states; only 19 states and the District of Columbia mandate kindergarten attendance. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in Utah still are required to offer only two hours of kindergarten programming per school day. As in most states, schools are not required to offer FDK.
How Kindergarten Used to be Funded in Utah
To help schools cover the cost of educating our children, the state provides a certain amount of funding per student enrolled in each LEA ($4,038 in 2022-23).
This funding amount per student is called a "Weighted Pupil Unit" or "WPU."
LEAs receive a full WPU for each student enrolled in first grade through twelfth grade.
Prior to 2023, for kindergarten programming, however, LEAs receive only 0.55 of a WPU for each enrolled child.
In order to offer additional kindergarten instruction beyond half-day programming, schools had to combine a variety of funding sources to make up the remaining 0.45 of each WPU. These funding streams included:
State funds via Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (OEK), FDK expansion funding (new for SY2022-23), Teacher Student Success Act (TSSA) or Necessarily Existent Small Schools (NESS) programs
Local funding from property taxes
Federal Title I Funds for low-income schools
Private tuition paid by families
Only schools able to combine enough funding from these sources have been able to offer optional full-day programs.
Not all schools have access to all of these funding sources. That is why the availability of optional FDK varies so widely from community to community, and so few families have the option to enroll their child in FDK.