Changing kindergarten entrance age: Fifth plan the charm?

The legislature plans to again consider changing the age children must be to enter kindergarten — a proposal that has been made many times before but has never resulted in a change in state law.

As recently as 2011, legislators rejected a plan to roll back the entrance age to align with that of other states after the State Department of Education reported that nearly one-quarter of kindergarten students would be considered too young to enter the classroom. Of the 10,000 children who would no longer be eligible, the department estimated that 4,400 children were from low-income families.

The legislature’s research team reports that such plans to move the entrance age have been common over the last two decades, but none have been approved by the education committee.

But as the state moves toward universal preschool — with legislators recently voting to add 1,020 new preschool seats next school year and promising to approve future legislation that will add thousands more seats over the next decade — the chairman of the legislature’s education committee said the chances of getting a change in the entrance age are high.

“I think the prospects are good,” Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said during an interview. “When we can ensure all families — including low-income families — that would be blocked from access have access to preschool, then it is appropriate.”

But with thousands of children across the state already not attending preschool under the current system, advocates worry that the children that would be aged out of kindergarten would take the limited number of newly created preschool seats.

Fleischmann said that’s why the General Assembly has passed legislation calling for the creation of two plans — one to change the kindergarten entrance age and the other to determine what it would take to create “universal access” to preschool.

“We need a phase-in so we are not barring children in poverty from getting past the school door” at age 3, he said.

He added that changing the entrance age cannot change until “universal access” is certain. The plan that legislators have set in motion to extend preschool expansion will take 10 years to be fully implemented, it will add about 9,000 more seats a year to early education programs across the state.

The plans are to be submitted to the legislature by June 30, 2015 and changing the entrance age will require futher legislative action.

The current wide disparity in kindergarten ages — children range from 4 and-a-half to 7 years old — makes it difficult for teachers to meet the needs of all the children in the classroom, officials and educators agree.

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