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Age appropriate: Adjustment of kindergarten age is good for kids – as well as for state finances

05.05.2010 | LA Daily News

MOST states in the nation require children entering kindergarten to be at least 5 years old by the beginning of the school year. It’s a common-sense rule that means incoming students aren’t too young for the challenges of elementary school.

California, however, has a late cut-off date of Dec. 2, meaning that an estimated 100,000 kindergarten students are only 4 years old at the beginning of the term. Research has found that starting at age 5 instead of 4 gives kids a significant learning advantage.

A bill by Bay Area state Sen. Joe Simitian would move the state’s kindergarten cut-off date to Sept. 1, putting it in alignment with most U.S. schools.

It’s not just a wise thing to do for California’s children, it will save the state an estimated $700 million. The bill would divide the money saved equally between filling the current budget deficit and expanding preschool education, which is where some of the 4-year-olds no longer eligible for kindergarten will end up.

It’s a refreshingly straightforward idea to improve education and reduce state spending. Hundreds of kindergarten teachers love the idea as well, Simitian said.

Karen Richmond, a kindergarten teacher at Valencia Elementary School in Aptos, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel last month that it’s rare for a 4-year-old to be ready for a formal classroom setting.

“Legally they can start when they’re 4, but it handicaps a lot of kids,” Richmond said. “Changing the age requirement evens the playing field and gives a huge advantage to wait the extra time.”

The bill would also significantly expand early education programs. Unfortunately, it might well be doomed.

Last month, the bill, SB 1381, made it through the Senate Education Committee with bipartisan support. However, it now sits stalled in the Senate Appropriation Committee.

Simitian says the obstacle is the California Teachers Association, which opposes the bill because it wants to see all the money saved redirected into preschool programs, not just half. The group’s argument, according to a letter sent to Simitian in March, is that the money put into pre-school wouldn’t support pre-school for all the 4-year-olds who aren’t in kindergarten.

That seems an open question at best. There are plenty of organizations, such as charter schools, that provide quality education for a fraction of the cost for overhead-burdened school districts. But even if it wasn’t enough, it might not matter.

While a family with working parents will surely need to rely on preschool for their kids left out of kindergarten, not all parents work or even choose to send their children to formal preschool.

The faulty logic notwithstanding, the CTA is one of the most powerful lobbys in the state and may get its way no matter that it means cuts to other state funding programs.

In an ideal world, California would have as much as it needs for every program it wants. But the state is in a deep budget hole, forcing deep cuts to all of its programs, including and especially public education. It must embrace compromises such as this one, which saves money and makes an improvement to education. We urge the members of the state senate to stand up against the special interest opposition and support this legislation before its own cut-off date of May 28.

It’s the right thing to do for the future of the children, and the future of California.

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