In addition to benefiting children, Simitianís bill would also save the State an estimated $700 million dollars in annual education spending due to the reduced student population. The cumulative savings over 13 years would reach $9.1 billion. SB 1381 would dedicate half of the funds to quality preschool programs for children whose entry to kindergarten would be delayed. The remainder of the funds would help alleviate Californiaís budget shortfall. "I see this change as a win-win-win," Simitian said. "Kindergarteners will be better prepared to succeed, weíll free up much-needed funds during a tough economic time, and we can help fund an age appropriate quality pre-school program. It just makes sense, educationally and financially," he said.
California has one of the latest cut-off dates in the nation, and approximately one quarter of children start kindergarten before reaching age five. Under SB 1381, all kindergarteners would be at least five years old when beginning classes, although parents would still be able to request exceptions from their local district. "Right now weíre putting a quarter of our students needlessly at risk for academic difficulty," said San Jose Unified School District Board Member Leslie Reynolds. "I chose to wait to enroll my own child into kindergarten, allowing her to be one of the older in her class, instead of the youngest. Itís one of the best decisions I ever made," said Reynolds. Educators in Simitianís district (San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties) have been outspoken supporters of the September 1st cut-off date. In March of last year, 289 teachers signed a petition to Simitian requesting the change.
"As teachers, we see students who enter school at 4 1/2 struggling every day in the classroom," said Natalie Bivas, a reading specialist in Palo Alto and one of the petition organizers. "Almost every child who comes to me for reading support has a fall birthday. They don't catch up somehow down the line. Instead, they end up on everyone's radar. By third grade, teachers start asking me why we didn't hold these children back. By then, we're discussing a special education intervention." Diana Argenti, a kindergarten teacher at Walter Hays School in Palo Alto, partnered with Bivas to circulate the petition. "I was frustrated seeing these young children have problems in kindergarten. Now I know itís a much bigger problem," said Argenti. "If weíre teaching things too young, in the long term it can cause social and emotional issues." Research indicates that beginning school at an older age improves childrenís social and academic development. A 2005 study by the Rand Corporation found a "significant boost" to test scores, especially for children from low-income families. Based on these benefits, Californiaís non-partisan Legislative Analystís Office, the California Performance Review, and the Governorís Committee on Education Excellence have each called for an earlier kindergarten cut-off date.
For more information on SB 1381 (year 2010), visit www.senatorsimitian.com/legislation .