Bill to raise kindergarten start age heads to governor

09.01.2010 | The Daily News | Jesse Dugan

Thanks to the persistence of some Palo Alto teachers, future kindergartners may be at least three months older than the youngest ones who started school this fall.

A bill introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and approved Tuesday by the Legislature would increase the minimum age of the state’s kindergartners if signed into law by the governor.

“There’s just a mound of research that indicates pretty clearly that when kids start too young, they struggle to keep up and that struggle continues for years and years,” Simitian said Wednesday.

He credited reading specialist Natalie Bivas of Palo Verde Elementary School and kindergartner teacher Diana Argenti of Walter Hays Elementary School for persuading him to push the bill, which is similar to others that have been defeated in the past two decades. Bivas and Argenti gathered the signatures of 289 fellow Palo Alto elementary school educators who support the age change and presented them to Simitian last year.

“Had they not approached me with the petition, I would not have thought to have introduced the bill,” Simitian said.

Under his bill, children would have to turn 5 years old by Sept. 1 instead of Dec. 2 to enter kindergarten. The bill would be phased in so that each year, beginning in 2012, the cutoff date would be a month earlier.

Proponents of the bill say children who begin school at a younger age are less equipped to handle academics and aren’t as socially prepared as the older children.

“I’m hoping we’ll be talking a lot less in our meeting about retaining students,” Bivas said Wednesday. She said kindergarten has become more challenging over the years and there are greater expectations placed on children learning to read, write and do mathematics.

“We felt bad for these little teeny-weeny kids having these very high demands placed on them,” Bivas said.

Simitian’s bill allows students born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2 to enter a transitional kindergarten. It also allows parents to appeal to their local school board if they believe their children are ready for kindergarten if born after Sept. 1.

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