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Preschool Provision Stripped From Kindergarten Bill

Measure To Raise Enrollment Age Advances

Grace E. Merritt

April 26, 2011

The legislature's appropriations committee approved a bill Monday to raise the starting age for kindergarten but stripped out a provision requiring preschool for displaced students.

The bill would require students to be 5 years old by Oct. 1 to enroll in kindergarten, three months earlier than the current Jan. 1 deadline. The bill, which would take effect in 2015, now heads to the floor of the House and Senate.

The bill no longer has financial strings attached in recognition of the state's budget constraints. The original bill required school districts to provide preschool for thousands of 4-year-olds displaced by the change at an estimated cost of $40 million.

Proponents said they still hope to find a way to pay for the preschool option, along with other, less expensive proposals in the umbrella bill aimed to close the academic achievement gap.

"We're hoping that between tweaks in the bill or the budget or both we can do it," said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D- West Hartford, who is co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.

The measure would affect babies born in October, November and December, an estimated 6,700 students statewide. It would also bring Connecticut more in line with kindergarten age guidelines in nearly every other state.

The kindergarten age measure was originally proposed by former state education Commissioner Mark McQuillan as a way create a more cohesive, effective classroom by narrowing the age bracket, which now spans ages 4 to 7.

The legislature's education committee proposed a measure to address both ends of the age spectrum last month. The committee approved the section requiring parents to enroll children by age 6, but not the lower starting age. The committee was responding to criticism that the measure would actually worsen the achievement gap because low-income parents could not afford to pay for the extra year of preschool.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, voted for the bill, but said she remains concerned that it could worsen the achievement gap. Children whose parents can't afford preschool would go a whole year without any structured education, she said.

Toni Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the appropriations committee, said she hopes that the state can figure out a way to get resources to those children before the measure takes effect in 2015.

Connecticut Voices for Children, an advocacy group, expressed disappointment that the bill lacked the preschool provision.

"Extensive research shows that low-income students start off behind their higher-income counterparts primarily because they have less preparation, not because they are younger," said Jake Siegel, a policy fellow for Connecticut Voices for Children. "Holding back students without providing universal access to high-quality preschool means the most vulnerable students will fall even further behind their classmates."

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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