In college sports, the practice of "redshirting" is used to give still developing athletes extra time to successfully transition and adjust. A bill currently before the state Assembly would do the same to children under the age of 5.
Currently, any child who turns 5 before Dec. 2 can enter kindergarten. But Senate Bill 1381, would change that entry date to Sept. 1. Those who can't make the cut would have to sit out a year - hence the redshirt analogy.
On the surface, you might ask: What's the big deal? Well, apparently a lot could be at stake.
Supporters of the bill say the skill and maturity differences between 4-year-olds in kindergarten and children turning 6 during that first year, have become problematic, with the younger children getting left behind. They contend that "redshirting" the children who don't make the cut will ultimately give them an extra year to prepare for schooling.
The bill's author, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, summarized that view with the following in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle:
Do you really want kids to start school before they're ready? The answer to that question is obviously no.
But the issue gets thorny when discussing the potential impact of such a decision.
By some estimates, changing the enrollment date would annually save about $700 million. How will that money be spent? And what happens to all those children blocked from school, especially those from low-income families, who would struggle to pay for the extra year of day care?
The bill tries to deal with some of the questions by directing half of the savings toward the budget deficit with the other half funding the state's preschool programs.
Parents whose children don't meet the kindergarten cut can petition their local school boards for an exception to the policy. Those children also will have the option of attending one of the state's preschool programs, according to the current bill.
But some are skeptical of those arrangements.
The California Teachers Association supports changing the enrollment requirements but opposes the bill because it believes the proposal won't address the large influx of children that would be left school-less by the new law, spokesman Mike Myslinski said.
We appreciate the work Sen. Simitian has done, but we can't support this bill. Right now, the state preschool programs can't handle all the kids that would be displaced. We strongly believe we shouldn't be balancing the state budget on the backs of children.
The Educated Guess sees a battle over how the savings will be spent as another potential stumbling block. The blog writes:
The Legislative Analyst projects there would be enough money to serve 29,000 of the 4-year-olds whose kindergarten would be delayed and whose family incomes qualify for the state program, plus an additional 59,000 three- and four-year olds who are currently on the state preschool wait list.
But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and fiscal conservatives want to use the full $700 million to reduce the deficit, while early childhood advocates either want all of the money going to expand preschool or, as a more expensive alternative, to establish a two-year kindergarten program for the September to November birthday kids.
If approved, the bill would phase in the changes beginning in 2012. The eligibility dates would move a month earlier each fall until the 2014-15 school year.