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Starting School On Time

Kindergarten The state should change the age rules for enrollment

The Hartford Courant

December 06, 2010

It's an agonizing question for parents: Is little Johnny ready for school? The state Board of Education would have a bigger say in that decision to the relief of kindergarten teachers and for the good of Johnny.

The board would, wisely, narrow the window of time when children can enter kindergarten so there are fewer 4-year-olds in classrooms with kids two and even three years older.

If the legislature and governor approve, children would need to be 5 by Oct. 1 of the kindergarten year to enroll. (Now they have to be 5 by Jan. 1 of the school year.) Parents who want to hold their children back till they're more mature would have to get the permission of their school boards.

The board's proposal is long overdue in fact, it may not go far enough. Moving back an additional month to a Sept. 1 cutoff date would put Connecticut in line with at least 21 other states. Now we've got one of the latest cutoff dates in the continental U.S.

But even an Oct. 1 cutoff date is a big step in the right direction educationally. It will result in more kids of roughly the same age in increasingly demanding kindergarten classrooms and it will keep younger children from getting in over their heads.

The downside and it's not to be dismissed in a state with the highest per-capita budget deficit is the cost of preschool for the 3,500 students who would be affected by the change in 19 low-income communities. Many working parents enroll children in kindergarten too early because they can't afford day care and have no other option. The state has to give them one. Kids entering kindergarten too early in low-income communities could be a significant reason why Connecticut has the worst gap in test scores nationwide between poor children of color and their better-off white peers.

One way of paying the $27.5 million preschool cost for those kids, proposed by state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan, is to phase in the changes over four years. In the first year, the state would move back the date for kindergarten entry to children who are 5 by Dec. 1, costing the state $9.1 million in preschool subsidies for the 1,100 students who don't make the cutoff date. The next year the cutoff date would be Nov. 1, doubling the cost, and so on.

Giving poorer kids who don't qualify for kindergarten a preschool option will have to be done slowly as the state struggles to get its financial footing. But it has to be done.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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