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Opinion: New Kindergarten Law Requires More $$$ for Preschool

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020 Connecticut was one of the few states in the nation that allowed four-year-olds to enter kindergarten – but only if their fifth birthday came before January 1. Most states required children entering kindergarten to be five by August 31 or September 1, thereby making it impossible for four-year-olds to begin public school. A few allowed local districts to determine the starting age for entering school.

Last year, the Connecticut state legislature passed a law requiring children entering kindergarten, beginning with the 2024-25 school year, to have reached the age of five by September 1. This meant the families of four-year-olds (with birthdays between September 1 and January 1) would have to wait another year before starting kindergarten. With the average cost of childcare in the state roughly $13,000 a year, the new law will create a financial burden for many Connecticut families.
Fortunately, the governor and members of the state legislature have recognized the need to expand the state’s preschool program and are currently working on legislation that will smooth the transition to the new kindergarten-age requirement. Also, local districts are developing waiver systems that would allow four-year-olds, who qualify, to enter kindergarten. It’s not clear if these waiver programs will be based on financial need or kindergarten readiness. Much of the discussion around the new law has focused on the financial burden of having to pay for an additional year of preschool. But what has received less attention are the issues that prompted states across the country to require children to be five upon entering kindergarten: Education these days, even at the elementary level, is intense, and many four- year-olds fall behind early on.

Moreover, allowing four-year-olds to enter kindergarten means they will be seven years old when they enter third grade and are confronted with the pressure that comes with standardized testing. In 1987, I became a third-grade teacher at PS 132 in northern Manhattan, where I ended up teaching for 25 years. New York, then and now, allows four-year-olds to begin school, which meant I had seven-year-olds in my class. Early on, I noticed that a disproportionate number of my students who were receiving remedial and counseling services were seven years old. Over the years, I checked the ages of my students who were targeted for various types of intervention. And the pattern held; seven-year-olds were more likely to need extra help. In the late 1980s, New York City public schools were under intense pressure to raise scores on standardized tests. So-called test prep was not only boring and intense, it also extended across much of the school year. I knew teachers who regularly assigned “reading passages” for homework that resembled the “passages” on the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) standardized test that all New York state students took in the early spring. Students were even assigned so-called test preparation packets for homework during vacations. Having a third-grade class with seven, eight, and nine-year-olds (some students started school a year late or were held over) was not easy. But I will never forget the blank looks I received from seven-year-olds when I tried to explain the importance of preparing for a state test that was months away.

Moreover, the DRP could be gamed; that is, students could be taught specific strategies that would raise their scores. Try explaining that to a seven-year-old. It is important to note that most of my students during the 25 years I taught at PS132 did not attend preschool. This raises a critical equity issue: They were being asked to perform on a standardized test after being in school for four years, whereas children who were fortunate enough to attend preschool for three years were taking that very same test after seven years of formal education. This brings us back to the need to increase funding for preschool in Connecticut. According to the National Institute of Early Education Research, in 2022 only 18% of four-year- olds in the state had access to state-funded preschool. That made our state 32 nd in the nation when it comes to funding preschool and early childhood education. In contrast, Florida was number one with 68% of its four-year-olds attending state-funded preschools. We can do better.

Comments

2 responses to “Opinion: New Kindergarten Law Requires More $$$ for Preschool”

  1. DIana Paladino

    Thank you for writing this! So important to raise awareness to this issue and funding need for preschool and early childhood education. The cost of childcare in our area is very costly and there are many that can benefit from an increase in funding during these very important early years.

  2. Justin Matley

    My issue with the current state of the proposed budget is that the original $150M allocated for K-12 set very specific programmatic goals and was itemized accordingly. By removing 1/3 of this to send to daycare / preschool, it immediately and dramatically impacts the ability to meet those specific goals that the funding provided for.

    This is not to say that appropriation for preschools / daycares is not warranted – it absolutely is – but I have an issue with it coming from the K-12 allocation that now comes with a different set of as-yet-to-be-defined endstates. Currently it’s just a full removal and reallocation with no information.

    Also, unlike K-12, daycares and preschools do not have particular academic, social, or developmental goals the programs must hit. There is no across district curriculae that feeds Kindergarten. Those are up to the programs themselves – and it’s the Wild West (believe me, I’ve been exposed to a half dozen preschools / daycares and all have very different approaches – or none at all). There is little oversight outside of the general safety of the environments. Again, this is why I take issue with removing over 35% from a very much needed investment in K-12 that did indeed have clear, marked goals that can be measured with that money. You remove the money, you need to change the details of those goals. You can’t just expect the same outcomes.

    Our state still has a surplus it is able to use however it intends, and I would like to see a clear plan for preschools and daycares with measurable uses for their own investment. If it turns out ~$90M can meet the same benchmarks as $150M for the K-12 population, then I’m of course all for it. But those reworked numbers and markers have not been proposed. When and if they are, then I’m open minded about the rejiggering.

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