A bill that would have raised the minimum age for students to enter kindergarten — a move that would delay the start of public school for about 1,600 students a year — has failed to gather the support of legislators on the Education Committee.
Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the committee’s co-chairman, said during a meeting last week that the panel has decided not to bring the proposal up for a vote before the committee’s deadline April 3.
Changing the kindergarten age has been a hot topic at the State Capitol in recent years, as education officials and legislators have both said the current age range–from 4 1/2 to over 7 years old — makes it difficult for teachers to meet the needs of all the children in the classroom.
Current law allows parents to enroll their children in kindergarten if they will turn 5 by Jan. 1 that school year. The proposed change would have required children to be 5 as of Nov. 1 starting in four school years.
Connecticut is the only state that requires districts to offer parents the opportunity to enroll children in kindergarten that are so young, reports the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit that tracks education policy nationwide.
There is agreement that this large age disparity is a problem, but coming up with a solution to fix it proven elusive for lawmakers. Legislators seem unwilling to change the age without an alternative program for the children who would be too young to enroll in school. Early education advocates have routinely said that parents are unable to afford quality preschool, so they enroll their child in kindergarten as soon as possible.
“Low-income children are better off in school than out,” said Sarah Esty of Connecticut Voices for Children, a nonprofit that lobbies at the state Capitol. She testified before the Education Committee earlier this year.
Providing preschool for those excluded from kindergarten by the change would cost about $8,400 per child, according to the State Department of Education. That is beyond the means of the state in a tight budget year, legislators decided. Two years ago, the legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated it would cost the state $5 million a year to provide preschool for the 600 low-income students who would be too young for kindergarten.
The committee has approved a bill that would require the Office of Early Childhood to develop a plan to change the kindergarten age and the creation of preschool spaces for those low-income children impacted by a change.