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Kindergarten changes approved

09.01.2010 | The Sacramento Bee | Susan Ferriss

Just minutes before a midnight legislative deadline, the California Senate approved a proposal Tuesday to require children to be older to start kindergarten.

Senate Bill 1381 sets Sept. 1 as the new date for when a child must turn 5 years old to start kindergarten, but the proposal phases in the change over a period of three years. The bill passed 21 to 15, with two Democrats voting against it and some Republicans objecting that amendments by the state Assembly would create new public education costs.

The bill by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, must now go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature or a veto. Children now must turn 5 to begin kindergarten by Dec. 2, but some educators have long contended that many children are not developmentally ready at 4 years of age for the increasing rigors of kindergarten.

The bill would change the age cutoff to Nov. 1 in 2012, followed by Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014. The bill retains an existing exemption that allows parents to send their child to kindergarten if they and educators agree he or she is ready.

Another key feature of the bill: Money that is saved by having three smaller classes of children begin kindergarten and for every year after until they graduate would be used to require school districts to provide new “transitional kindergarten.”

Children eligible to go to the new transitional classes would be students who otherwise would have gone to kindergarten before the age cutoff. The Parent Teachers Association supported the bill with this change, which was adopted in the state Assembly, and the California Teachers Association dropped its long-standing opposition.

Simitian contends that the transitional kindergarten is a change many educators have argued is a good one for education. He said that with the new age cutoff that schools would save money by having fewer children held back or requiring the help of special education classes.

The savings from the change would run out once the children in the three smaller
classes graduate from high school, but by then, he predicted, the public schools
may have seen tangible benefits from the addition of transitional kindergarten.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg limited arguments on the floor against and for the bill because the clock was running out for legislators to
approve bills.

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