‘Summer babies' would be affected by kindergarten bill under consideration in Oklahoma

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: October 5, 2011

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.

Opposition expressed

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.

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