Later kindergarten start for state kids?

09.02.2010 | The Daily Journal | Heather Murtagh

Sending 4-year-olds who would soon be celebrating a birthday to kindergarten could be a thing of the past if a bill which requires students to be 5 by Sept. 1 rather than Dec. 1 is signed by the governor.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, proposes raising the minimum age to enter kindergarten from 5 years old by Dec. 2 to 5 years old by Sept. 1. If supported by the governor, children who turn 5 from Sept. 2 to Dec. 2 would be eligible for a new transitional kindergarten funded with money that would have gone toward his or her kindergarten expenses.

This is good for kids on two fronts,” Simitian said in prepared statement. “We start kids when they’re ready to succeed in school, and for younger children we provide a ‘get ready’ year of instruction as well.”

Preschool California President Catherine Atkin, whose organization co-sponsored the bill, described the bipartisan support as a victory for the state’s children.

“Transitional kindergarten is a critical component of K-12 reform in the early elementary years, building a bridge between early learning and kindergarten that will give our children additional time to develop socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically,” Atkin said.

Preparing students for school has been a focus for education advocates for years. A 2008 RAND Corporation study showed of those who would most benefit from preschool, only 15 percent are in high-quality programs which prepare them for kindergarten.

A 2008 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, which reviewed 14 recent rigorous studies on how entrance age affects student outcomes in the short and long term, suggested increasing a child’s entry age would likely boost the student’s achievements. Several of these studies also suggest that older students are less likely to be retained or diagnosed with a learning disability, while having a higher likelihood of attending college and earning higher wages. 

If approved, the age requirement changes would be phased in moving the cutoff date up one month a year for three years beginning in 2012. 

Many legislators have tried to change the kindergarten age requirements previously. Often the bills were defeated for other reasons. This is the first time in two decades such a measure made it to the governor’s desk.

Former assemblyman Gene Mullin, for example, proposed the same age change in a 2007 bill that would have also made kindergarten mandatory. Current law doesn’t require students to attend school until age 6, making kindergarten optional.

Opponents argued there isn’t evidence that starting children in school earlier will be beneficial in the long run. Also, they argue the requirement will be a financial burden to parents opting for private school.

The bill never earned the support it needed.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill.

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