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Kindergarten bill gets mixed grades from Tulare County officials

09.03.2010 | Tulare Advance Register 0 0 Views: 1 | Victor Garcia

A senate bill that would change the age requirement for kindergartners is getting mixed reactions from Visalia and Tulare school districts.

SB 1381, authored by Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would require students to turn 5 no later than Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten during the 2014-15 school year. The new age requirement would be phased in over three years, beginning in 2012. The bill made it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk recently.

Craig Wheaton, Visalia Unified School District superintendent, said the appropriate time to start kindergarten is “kind of a philosophical debate that’s gone on for a long time.”

“Kindergarten is a voluntary program for students,” Wheaton said. “A lot of people don’t understand compulsory education starts at first grade.”

Currently, kindergartners must turn 5 on or before Dec. 2 of the year they start school. Starting in the 2012-13 school year, the age requirement would be one month earlier per year until 2014.

Wheaton see pros and cons to the bill.

“There are some advantages for kindergartners being a little more mature and older,” he said. “[But] we are so used to having December as a date, that I think it works well.”
Wheaton hopes the bill gives some flexibility to school districts.

“I don’t like taking options away,” Wheaton said. “Waiting a year may be the best thing for some students. I just don’t want to take the ability of parents to make the choice there.”

According to the bill, students whose birthdays fall between September and December could enroll in a transitional kindergarten program.

“We do have some preschool programs, but not at every one of our schools,” Wheaton said.

Sue Ann Hillman, Tulare City School District director of curriculum, supports the idea of changing the required birthday.

“We do find that students who are age 5 by Sept. 1 typically do better in kindergarten,” Hillman said.

The transitional kindergarten program would enable children to develop increased cognitive, social and emotional skills, Hillman said.

“I agree with this,” she said. “I know that we will be following this bill closely.”

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