Wednesday, January 30, 2002


Senate bill aims
to raise age bar
for kindergarten

The plan could save the state
$10 million annually, but increase
families' day-care costs

By Lisa Asato

Five-year-olds born after June may have to sit out a school year before entering kindergarten, under a bill being heard today by the Senate Education Committee.

Sitting out a school year may help the younger children be better students in the long run, said committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua, Salt Lake). "(If) they're not ready for school, it's doing a disservice to the students forcing them to run after the school bus from day one," he said.

"I think the bottom line is if students aren't ready for school we need to make changes."

The bill would potentially cut in half the number of those eligible and push parents to find sometimes costly alternative care for late-born children.

When a similar age requirement at Maryknoll School would have meant delaying her daughter's entry into kindergarten for one year and paying $420 a month for preschool, parent Jill Kim decided against it.

"Leaving her in preschool was not something I wanted to do," said Kim, adding that her daughter, Kyli, now a first-grader, did well in school and was excited to graduate into kindergarten along with her older classmates.

Senate Bill 2032 maintains the state's age 5 rule but imposes new cut-off dates for eligibility. It would scale back the cut-off date to Sept. 1 starting with the 2002-2003 school year, and to June 30 the next.

Currently, children must be at least 5 by Dec. 31.

Sakamoto said the new age requirement would result in cost-savings of about $4.5 million in the first year and $10 million the second, he said. According to the bill, those funds would be used to expand or supplement existing programs to be determined by the departments of Education and Human Services. Later savings could be used for things such as repair and maintenance and reducing class size, according to the bill.

"Every year the smaller class size will go all through the system," meaning "less students, less needs for resources," Sakamoto said.

The Board of Education has supported similar ideas in the past but was "looking at staggering it on a more graduated basis," said Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen. Under the current bill, half the state's roughly 14,000 kindergartners may be affected by the July 1 rule, Knudsen said.

He also said the bill should take into account that some parents may be planning to have their children in kindergarten next fall. "People just need enough lead time so they can make other arrangement if age does change," he said.

The committee will hear the bill at 3 p.m. today in Room 212 of the state Capitol.

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