Malloy will sign kindergarten age bill without pre-school provision

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday he’s inclined to sign a bill raising the kindergarten age, although the measure now making its way through the legislature does not include a way to provide pre-school for children whose entry into public school will be delayed.

“I believe we should have a uniform and narrower start date for kindergarten,” Malloy said Tuesday. “Kindergarten should start at a particular age… [It’s] good sound educational policy and I support that. Secondarily, I also support the expansion of pre-K, but those things are not necessarily connected.”

Malloy’s comments come a day after members on the legislature’s budget-writing committee decided not to require the state or towns fund preschool for the students who would be too young to enroll in kindergarten. The State Department of Education estimates it would cost $38 million a year to provide preschool for the 4,500 students that would be affected.

Instead, the bill approved by the Appropriations Committee would push the question of what to do with these children to a task force “to address the problem we create by changing the start age,” Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, the co-chairwoman said Monday. “We’ll be setting up a process to study, and how we can address this need by 2015,” when the new law would take effect.

Currently, students can be enrolled in kindergarten if they will turn 5 years old by the following Jan. 1. The new law would require them to be 5 as of Oct. 1, effective in the 2015-16 school year.

Proponents of the change, including to Malloy, say the current age rule creates too broad a developmental range in classrooms across the state. Connecticut and Vermont are the only states to allow such young children to start kindergarten, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States.

Education advocates, several legislators and the Acting Education Commissioner George Coleman have said unless a guaranteed seat in a preschool classroom is provided, the start date should not change.

“My worry is they’ll change the date now and never put the money in for preschool. You have to tie them together,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and a longtime early childhood educator.

Paul Wessell, director with Connecticut Parent Power, a statewide parents’ organization, agrees.

“We think this is a terrible idea. You can’t do this to low-income children, you are just holding them out of school an extra year,” he said. “You have to have an alternative.”

But Malloy said the two should not be tied, and it’s just bad education policy to allow such a large age gap to remain.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense and puts a number of children at a disadvantage,” he said.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the co-chairman of the Education Committee, said what’s bad policy is shutting students out of school.

“It’s clear we have a responsibility to offer preschool spots to these children that would be shut out,” he said. “I would rather have a child that’s a little bit younger than have them shut our of school for an entire year. That’s not good policy.”

The bill now goes to the state Senate.