When It Comes to Kindergarten, The Legislature Knows Best

At what age should a particular child start kindergarten? It's an important question, and one that is the subject of considerable research. And the answer should be different for each child. An assessment of each child's maturity and readiness for school -- combined with the views of parents, teachers and local schools -- should determine when a child goes into kindergarten.

But none of that matters in California, where Sacramento knows better.

Since the 1970s, when liberal court decisions and the passage of Prop 13 led to the centralization of education policymaking and funding in Sacramento, the legislature has decided kindergarten eligibility. And yesterday, the legislature -- for budget-saving reasons that were dressed up with arguments that children should start kindergarten later -- decided that a child will have to have turned 5 by Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten that year. (The previous date was Dec. 2).

This legislation will save an estimated $700 million by reducing kindergarten enrollment. Half of that savings will go to the state's budget deficit. The other half will go to pre-school programs. But opponents, including the California Teachers Assn., point out that pre-school programs are not robust enough to absorb the children who will be held back a year from kindergarten.

It's easy to blame the legislature for this, but it would be wrong. Lawmakers aren't doing this happily. They are desperately trying to manage diminished resources produced by a bad economy and a broken budget system. That system was created and ratified by the voters themselves. The kindergarten legislation is simply another example of the perverse sort of actions required by California's governing structure -- and why we need major reforms of that system now.

Even a five year old should be able to understand that.

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