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Originally posted October 5, 2011
‘Summer babies' would be affected by kindergarten bill under consideration in Oklahoma
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT
Moving the cutoff date for prekindergarten and kindergarten eligibility back two months would ensure young students are better prepared to learn, the author of proposed legislation said Tuesday.
Rep. Dennis Johnson said his measure specifically targets “summer babies” born between July and September who are typically the youngest in their class and often fall behind during early education years.
House Bill 1465, which easily passed the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this session but then got bogged down because of proposed changes, would move the cutoff date for prekindergarten and kindergarten eligibility from Sept. 1 to July 1. Under the bill, all children who are 4 years old by July 1 would be eligible for prekindergarten classes, and children who are 5 years old by July 1 would be eligible for kindergarten.
“We just don't want 4-year-olds going to kindergarten,” said Johnson, R-Duncan.
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi spoke against the proposal during an interim legislative study by the House Common Education Committee. She said the measure would slow schooling for students; about 9,200 students who entered kindergarten this year would not have been eligible had the measure passed.
“This is about preparing young people and giving them the tools that they need to be successful in school,” she said. “They're going to be missing an entire year of school.”
Barresi said parents who are struggling economically can't afford to place their children in quality day care centers. Often, sitters come in to watch children, who are placed in a playpen in front of a television set and receive little learning interaction with adults.
About 61 percent of Oklahoma's public school students are receiving a free or reduced lunch, she said. A majority of young children live in low-income situations, and many are at risk from other factors, such as drugs or alcohol abuse, which adversely affect their early development.
Some aren't ready
Oklahoma is among 41 states with a Sept. 1 or later cutoff for kindergarten eligibility, Barresi said. Indiana has a July 1 date, and five other states have cutoff dates in August. Three states allow local education agencies to decide.
Johnson said he is concerned that a growing number of Oklahoma kindergartners aren't ready to begin the kindergarten learning process. Waiting until these students are prepared is the best thing for students, teachers and families, he said.
“You cannot teach maturity,” Johnson said. “You're either there or you're not. And some of the kids are just not there.”
“These are children who aren't ready to be in school,” said Kristi Ferguson, a Newcastle School District teacher who teaches kindergartners and first-graders who are academically behind. “They need another year to grow.”
Patricia Cox, superintendent of the Aline-Cleo Springs School District, said children sent to school too early don't know how to behave. Moving back the kindergarten eligibility date would help.
“It gives the children another year to grow and mature, and they're better prepared to succeed,” Cox said. “I see it every day with children that are coming there — just babies. They just need that extra time to be ready for a curriculum.”
Johnson said his bill was the result of concerns expressed during a House interim study on the issue last year. HB 1465 also has the support of the Professional Educators of Oklahoma.
Ginger Tinney, the group's executive director, said a survey of members showed 97 percent of teachers support moving the cutoff date from Sept. 1 to July 1.
Joel Robison, associate executive director and chief lobbyist for the Oklahoma Education Association, said after the hearing his group opposes the bill and supports Barresi's position.
“We ought to be facilitating kids' entry into the school system as opposed to trying to keep them out of the school system,” Robison said. “With Oklahoma's poverty rate and the rate of children being born to single parents, it is imperative that we get these kids into school so that they can start progressing.”