Kindergarten Age Rules Could Change

A bill now in the California Legislature would require children to be 5 years old by Sept. 1, in order for them to enter kindergarten, which is three months earlier than what current law outlines.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said the proposal would boost kindergarten readiness and save the state an estimated $700 million a year by reducing the student population. He estimates the savings to be $9.1 billion over a 13-year period.  The savings come from fewer students in class and that ripple, according Simitian, would continue for thirteen years.

That is the savings to the state of course. Parents on the other hand would often get strapped with another year of pre-school or daycare if their children do not hit the magic birthday deadline.

Under current law, children entering kindergarten must be 5 years old by Dec. 2, of that school year.

Simitian's Senate Bill 1381 would require that the new age requirement would be phased in over three years beginning in 2012. The bill was scheduled to be discussed Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

"Today's kindergarten classroom is a much different place than most of us experienced," Simitian said in a prepared statement. "We're placing real academic demands on our kids, and the youngest are struggling to keep up. The evidence shows that giving these younger kindergarteners an extra year can make a big difference in their long term success."

SB 1381 would dedicate money saved to preschool programs for children whose entry to kindergarten would be delayed. The remainder of the funds would help alleviate California’s budget shortfall.

"I see this change as a win-win-win," Simitian said. "Kindergarteners will be better prepared to succeed, we'll free up much-needed funds during a tough economic time, and we can help fund an age appropriate quality pre-school program. It just makes sense, educationally and financially."

Simitian's proposal is not unique. The non-partisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Governor’s California Performance Review have also called for an earlier cut-off date. contributed to this report.

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