Kindergarten Cutoff Change Dies in Committee

Some say this is not the year to make school program changes and leave parents without a preschool option.

In any kindergarten class in Connecticut public schools, children could range in age from 4 to 7 years old.

That means some of those children know how to read and others might not have even learned their letters.

The wide disparity in ages and development levels is something the state Department of Education wants to change by moving up the date to enroll in kindergarten. The department wants a new kindergarten cutoff date of Oct. 1, rather than the existing date of Jan. 1.

The change would mean fewer 4-year-olds in kindergarten classes and ensure children are 5 years old on or before Oct. 1 of the the year they enter school. It also would mean the teachers can create more targeted lessons, which some say could help close the achievement gap.

Lawmakers, however, did not approve the cutoff change when the General Assembly's Education Committee met in early March and instead focused on the age of which parents can defer school for their children.

As it is now, parents can waive school for their children until the age of 7. New legislation would reduce that age and require all children in Connecticut to be in kindergarten by the time they are 6 years old.

Both aspects of the kindergarten age were included in Senate Bill 582 but the cutoff date change was not approved.

"It fell off that bill," said Sen. Toni Boucher who is the Senate ranking member on the Education Committee and represents the 26th District encompassing New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, Wilton and Bethel.

"I would have preferred to change the date to Oct. 1," she said, adding that Connecticut and Hawaii are the only states that are not in sync with what has become the national standard — an Oct. 1 cutoff.

"When you have parents moving in and out of Connecticut, it is very inconvenient for them," Boucher said. "Sooner or later I think we need to do the right thing."
While there is support for the change, Boucher said some committee members did not feel now is the right time because schools would have to change programs, preschools would have to prepare for larger classes and parents might not have the financial means to send their children to pre-kindergarten classes.

"It's a budgeting and financial issue," Boucher said. "It would essentially create a situation where parents would have to pay for an additional year of preschool."
The initial bill called for about $4 million to offset the change and allow children access to preschool if they didn't meet the cutoff date.

However, the Department of Education Spokesman Tom Murphy said that money does not exist in the budget this year and is thus no longer attached to the bill.

"The Education Committee decided that while it's a good idea ... there is also a concern that if we were to have the cutoff change, there would be thousands of students that would not have accesss to kindergarten or preschool," Murphy said. "So the committee chair, Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford, said he would not let the bill move forward without additional dollars for preschool funding to make sure those students who would be left out receive preschool services and that's just not in the budget."

Fleischmann could not be reached for comment.

Since the age range in kindergarten is wide, some parents decide to wait a year before sending their children to school and others send them as soon as they can.

The bill now moves to the Senate floor.


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