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Editorial: SB 1381 deserves signing

09.08.2010 | The Reporter

At least one deserving bill made it through the state Legislature’s end-of-term chaos last week: SB 1381, which would gradually change the age requirement for children entering public school.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign it immediately.

California is one of only a few states that allow children to enter kindergarten months before their fifth birthday. That may be one reason that California students don’t fare as well on standardized tests as their counterparts in other states.

SB 1381, by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would gradually bring California in line with the rest of the nation.

Currently, California requires children be admitted to kindergarten during the school year in which their fifth birthday occurs on or before Dec. 2. Children whose sixth birthday is on or before that date must be admitted to first grade.

The new law would back up the deadline by a month for the next three years. So next school year, the birthday would have to fall on or before Nov. 1. The date for the 2013-14 school year would be Oct. 1. Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Sept. 1 would be the cutoff.

The Legislative Analyst estimates that the change could save California about $700 million over those three years because there would be fewer children entering public school. But rather than drop the savings into the General Fund, the money would go to public schools so they could offer an extra year of “transitional kindergarten” to students with fall birthdays. This preschool-type program would cost about half as much as regular schooling, and the schools could use the rest of the savings for other programs.

Kindergarten and first-grade have changed significantly in recent years, and children must be mature enough to handle the work now expected of them. Making sure they are at the appropriate age from the start — and providing an extra year of preschool for the younger children — can only help California’s students.

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