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House passes bill to move up date for kids to start preK, Kindergarten


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would change age guidelines for children to start preschool and kindergarten has passed the House on a 74-26 vote Tuesday.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said under current law, a child would has to be 4 years old before Sept. 1 to enter into early childhood education programs; 5 years old before that date to enter kindergarten and must reach the compulsory age of 6 years old to attend school by that date.

Under the bill passed Wednesday that date changes to July 1.

The bill passed the Senate in March. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam and the bill’s lead sponsor, said he spoke with about 45 teachers who were concerned children were starting school too early.

“They noticed that summer babies were having trouble, in kindergarten, starting in kindergarten, some of them were getting held back,” Jeffries said.

“I think our schools are concerned that some children are just not developed to start really early,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, said on the Senate floor, according to the Gazette-Mail. “They need that extra little bit of time.”

He said children develop at different rates, including regarding when they know how to use the bathroom, and said that he thinks some teachers are having to both teach and “raise the children as well” at these early stages. He said teachers and parents had been requesting the change.

“This would kind of back it up to where the child would kind of have a little more time to develop age-wise and time to develop personal skills prior to entering school,” Mann said.

The bill now returns to the Senate for agreement on amendments made to its original by the House.

Delegate Espinosa said there will be a county-by-county process by which parents can request a waiver if they believe their child is ready to enter school even though they haven’t reached a certain age by that date. Each county would have a process where testimony is allowed by an educator who dealt with the child, a psychologist or even the parent, to see if the child is ready or conversely if the parent believes the child is not ready to attend school.

Delegate S. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, supported the bill, saying two months can make a big difference in a child’s development.

“There is a direct correlation between the months of development at this level and kids being diagnosed with behavioral issues,” Wilson said. “Two or three months older or so can be more advanced and have less of a problem with behavioral disorders as well.”

Delegate Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, said was concerned that some counties wouldn’t abide by the waiver process and said there could be instances where a person would be 19 when they graduate high school.

Espinosa said the July date seems to be a better fit in most situations and reiterated that there is a county-by-county basis to address whether a child is developmentally advanced or needs to be held back.

Espinosa said no matter what the date is, there will always be people who fall on one side or the other.

“Allowing a county by county process where they can have a waiver, there is a matter of trust of if you trust the local school board to make those decisions or not. The proposed legislation allows more time for the child to develop and provides a process that a parent can appeal if they don’t agree with the date.”

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