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New bill could change Utah's kindergarten age

SANDY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - To attend kindergarten in Utah a child must have turned five years old by September 2nd, unless they are in a year-round school that begins in July. Then they can be four years old and ten months. A Utah legislator is sponsoring a bill that would change that.
SANDY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - To attend kindergarten in Utah a child must have turned five years old by September 2nd, unless they are in a year-round school that begins in July. Then they can be four years old and ten months. A Utah legislator is sponsoring a bill that would change that.

Representative Laura Black, of Sandy says kindergarten teachers in her district approached her about changing the birthday deadline to July 1st. She says they complain that four is too young to attend school.

House Bill 242 would change the deadline from September 2nd to July 1st starting in 2010. It would also impact children who have July and August birthdays. Black says, "It might prevent those July and August birthdays. It might give them another year in a day care or pre-school development program to make sure they are ready.”

Black says a lot of children who enter kindergarten may not be ready for a structured educational experience. “A lot of them are ready, and a lot of them are not, but if they were five they have much better chance for success.”

Linda Okabe, a Salt Lake kindergarten teacher says she can see the difference age makes in her classroom. "There is such a difference, they are so much more mature, they can really focus, they are ready to learn.” She says she taught in California for many years, where the five year old birthday deadline is in December, and she says that extra time made a distinct difference in a student’s ability to focus, concentrate, and with their social skills.

She is all for the earlier deadline but others are not. Erin Trenbeath-Murray is the director of Salt Lake Head Start Pre-school programs. She says delaying education is not the answer especially for the underprivileged. “Many children, especially children in poverty, desperately need a strong educational, social, and emotional environment.”

She says Head Start has a waiting list that is over five hundred kids long. “Many of our kiddos are the neediest of the needy, the poorest of the poor, and who have the highest risk factors. That’s why they qualify for Head Start. They really need supportive structure and an education environment, and we just can’t serve any more.”

Trenbeath-Murray says delaying kindergarten for those children, even by two months, is not the answer. She says better preparation for kindergarten is. “If we are supporting early childhood efforts and early childhood education as the governor has set forth, then that’s where the dollars should be spent instead of delaying the education experience.”

Representative Black says her bill will likely be amended to give power to local school districts to make the final decision on when the birthday deadline will be.


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