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Shift in cutoff age will give Kentucky kindergartners a greater chance at school success

Change takes effect with 2017-18 school year
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-29 07:00:07-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Some students will start school later than they previously would have, thanks to a Kentucky law that goes into effect next school year.

Under Senate Bill 24, approved in 2012, students must turn 5 by Aug. 1 to begin kindergarten starting in the 2017-18 school year. The birthday cutoff was last changed in the 1970s, and until now allowed students to start school if they reached age 5 by Oct. 1.

“I was aware of the detriment to kids that start too early,” said Kentucky Sen. Jimmy Higdon, who sponsored the bill. “They’re not ready.”

The shift in cutoff age was precipitated by requests made by teachers, who saw that students who started school later generally were more prepared for kindergarten.

“That discussion has been going on for quite awhile,” said House Education Committee Chairman Derrick Graham.

Added Higdon: “From what teachers say and from what I know from my own experience, those kids that start later have a better chance at succeeding.”

Despite the requests for the change, the original bill led to so much backlash from parents that it was amended prior to approval, setting the effective date for the 2017-18 school year. Pushing it back by five years ensured that no child born at the time of the bill’s approval would be affected.

Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Kelly Middleton said he’s unsure how many students will be impacted by the change, but he doesn’t expect it to impact enrollment much.

“We’re a small district,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to change our numbers drastically in any way.”

The two-month shift may not seem like much, but it can make a significant difference in kindergarten readiness, he said.

“When you coach the little kids, you understand that even three months or six months makes a huge difference developmentally,” he said.

Although age can play a role in a child’s development, pre-kindergarten learning opportunities can affect school readiness also.

“Primarily the issue is not age … but what opportunities kids have had academically and socially before they enter school,” Graham said.

The change to the birthday cutoff goes hand-in-hand with other kindergarten-readiness efforts by giving kids more time to attend preschool or other readiness programs, he said.

“I think that we need to try to ensure that the quality of preschools and other learning opportunities are accessible, so that we can help these kids develop as they move along,” Graham said.

In addition to establishing a new birthday cutoff for students starting school, the bill states that unless they qualify for an exemption, children must be enrolled in school if they are 6 by Aug. 1.

For children who are gifted, there are exceptions as well. Parents can request early entrance for children who do not meet the age requirement for starting school.

“We did say that there had to be a procedure in place to determine if the kid was able to start early,” Higdon said.

The early-entrance process is left to individual boards of education to establish and thus may vary from district to district, he said.

Because of an amendment made to the statute in 2015, school districts can only charge tuition fees for early-admission students equal to tuition charged for students who meet the age requirements.

While Middleton said he doesn’t expect to see much of an increase in early-entrance requests, Graham was unsure what the impact might be statewide.

“We’ll just have to see what the results show,” he said.