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Superintendents: Don't Raise Kindergarten Age Unless Preschool Provided for Low-Income Students

Grace E. Merritt

February 07, 2011

A school superintendents' group says the state should not raise the starting age of kindergarten in Connecticut unless it also provides universal preschool for all low-income children.

"Poor children are already far enough behind in the state," said Joseph J. Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. "This is just going to exacerbate it."

The association was reacting to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's recent statement that he favors raising the enrollment age without waiting for expanded preschool.

In an interview Thursday, Malloy said the two issues should be separate. He favors raising the kindergarten enrollment age because it would result in a better educational environment for both children and teachers. But, he added, the proposal should not be tied to preschool.

"There's no bigger proponent of preschool than I am," Malloy said. "But they are two separate, albeit related, issues."

In December, the State Board of Education decided to raise the minimum age for kindergarten so that classrooms comprise mostly 5-year-olds. To enter kindergarten, a student would need to turn 5 by Oct. 1 rather than the current Jan. 1 deadline.

Former state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan proposed the change, saying that it would narrow the range of ages in the kindergarten classroom, making for a more effective educational experience. Currently, 4-year-olds are sometimes in classrooms with much bigger and more socially and mentally advanced 7-year-olds.

McQuillan also proposed providing preschool for low-income students to fill any gaps created by the new enrollment date. State officials estimate that it would cost about $36.7 million a year to provide preschool for the estimated 4,400 low-income students who would be affected.

McQuillan said the changes, which must be approved by the legislature, would bring Connecticut in line with most of the rest of the country. In addition, they would help close the academic achievement gap between poor and minority students and their wealthier, white peers. Low-income students would be exposed to more preschool and be roughly the same age when they begin kindergarten.

The superintendents' group said that unless preschool was available, changing the kindergarten eligibility date actually would make the achievement gap worse.

Malloy said that some larger urban school districts could provide preschool themselves by converting some classrooms into preschool space. Hartford, for example, could convert three classrooms to handle the preschoolers who would qualify, Malloy said.

State-funded universal preschool also would solve the problem, Malloy said, but that's not feasible when the state is facing a $3.7 billion deficit.

Cirasuolo said it would be difficult for poor, urban districts to hire preschool teachers and administrators, especially under tight financial constraints.

"Their budgets are strapped enough as they are," he said. "They really don't have resources to provide preschool."

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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