The state Senate has put off for at least two years a proposal to raise the minimum age for children to start kindergarten–a move that would have delayed enrollment in public school for almost 7,000 students.
Instead, they have opted to have a task force figure out how to close the large age disparity in kindergarten classrooms across the state by next year.
That delay did not sit well with some Republican senators.
“Wouldn’t it make sense to cast that change now?” Republican Minority Leader John P. McKinney asked. He said the legislature should set a date for the minimum age change and work out the details in the meantime, rather than create a task force to draft recommendations and then decide whether to act. “My fear is that we’ve put off this issue for several years.”
The State Board of Education originally proposed the change, agreeing with state education officials that the wide age disparity in kindergarten classes–which can range from 4 1/2 to almost 7 years old–makes it difficult for teachers to meet the needs of all the children in the classroom.
But education advocates say excluding the 7,000 students who would become too young to enroll would leave too many low-income children without an education for an additional year.
Sen. Andrea Stillman, the co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said she cannot vote to turn that many students away without ensuring that they can attend preschool.
Current law allows parents to enroll their children in kindergarten if they will be 5 years old as of Jan. 1 of the current school year. The most recent version of the proposed change would have required children to be 5 as of Oct. 1.
Providing preschool education children excluded from kindergarten by the change would cost about $8,400 per child, according to the State Department of Education–beyond the means of the state in a tight budget year, legislators decided.
“The worst thing we can do is not provide that extra year of preschool,” Stillman said. “We have to have the resources [to provide them a seat in preschool] so they don’t start school behind… We don’t have the dollars.”
McKinney replied that the change is not about denying access, it’s about good education policy.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has also said allowing such young children enter kindergarten does not make sense and that providing those turned away a seat in preschool should not delay changing the age.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, head of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said the overwhelming majority of the caucus oppose changing the entrance age without providing the funding to enroll those turned away in preschool.
Before the Senate decided to reject making the age change, Stillman said it is possible the state may still ask the for funding from the federal government in the new Race to the Top so the state can afford to take the leap.