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Change the kindergarten entry age?

09.03.2010 | Press Democrat | Extra Credit

Kindergarten before the age of 5?

The California Legislature says no.

The Legislature this week passed SB1381 (D-Simitian, D-Palo Alto) which would gradually roll back the admission cutoff for kindergarteners from Dec. 2 to Sept. 2. It would also establish a “transitional kindergarten” for the so-called “young fives.”

There is already ongoing, lively debate over the value of redshirting kindergarteners whose birthdays fall near the cutoff to give them a little extra time for academic preparation or physical and social confidence.

“We are asking them to do things that probably are not appropriate for their age,” John Eberly of the Santa Rosa Junior College Child Development Department and a member of California Kindergarten Association Board of Directors said of the young fives.

“They are the last ones to develop, they tend to be followers,” he said.

Eberly called the program outlined in SB 1381 a reasonable approach.

“We want have kids in an environment where they are going to be successful,” he said.

But not all of the debate over the bill is focused purely on academic or social concerns.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, if all parents who would have otherwise chosen to redshirt their children choose to enroll their children in the transitional kindergarten program, the resulting costs would be nearly $20 million in 2012-13; $40.4 million in 2013-14 and $57 million in 2014-15.

If they don’t and continue to keep their kids out of kindergarten that first year they are eligible, the program costs dramatically less because that first class of kindergarteners will be smaller
throughout the 13 years they are in school.
“That small little group will move its way through the system meaning our total number of kids will be less,” said Rachel Ehlers, principal fiscal and policy analyst with the LAO’s office.

It gets radically more expensive when the first cohort of young fives exits the system.

In the 2027-28 year, the cost would be between $700,000 million and $900,000 annually, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee Summary.

“Once that small cohort graduates from high school, we are now offering 14 years of school,” Ehlers said.

And not all of those expenses would be borne by the state.

The requirement for a modified curriculum tailored for the young fives could require local districts to pony up for administration, professional development and materials, according to the staff analysis, which estimated the cost would likely be in the millions of dollars.

It passed out of the Senate with a 21 to 15 vote and the Assembly on a 51 to 18 vote.

Do Sonoma County readers have any thoughts on this one?

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