UTAH (ABC4) – Utah lawmakers are investing millions into furthering and improving the early education of Utah children.

The state has announced an investment of $8 million into pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students participating in the Waterford Upstart program.

Debuting in 2009, Waterford Upstart is a nonprofit, at-home education program created by the Utah legislature and local nonprofit Waterford.org. The program aims to prepare children for school at no cost while providing rural Utah children without access to early learning.

Families and caregivers are provided with free educational tools such as personalized software, coaching, a computer and internet access.

“As we slowly begin to return to a sense of normalcy, the effects of COVID-19 on early education are emerging,” officials say. “Research shows unfinished learning has impacted children nationwide, especially our youngest learners who are just beginning to read.”

Officials say research has shown the program to be “highly effective” with the average Waterford Upstart graduate “entering kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level and maintaining those gains through fourth grade.”

“Regardless of where PreK or kindergarteners live or their economic background, Waterford Upstart is preparing them for school,” said Senate President J. Stuart Adams. “The state-created early education solution is successfully reaching all children across Utah. Due to the positive results, we have expanded access to even more children. Whether they are in PreK or kindergarten, at home with a parent or in daycare, children can use Upstart to get a cognitive boost.”

Program representatives say any family who may want to enroll in the program is able to.

“Our state leaders recognize we must do something to help our children stay on track, and that help must come early,” said Kim Fischer, the national spokesperson and senior vice president of communication for Waterford.org. “Waterford Upstart is a great solution because it gets families involved and it can be done in conjunction with traditional education

Families with children entering kindergarten in the fall or in 2023 can enroll their children by clicking here or by calling 888-982-9898.