Eagle Calls for Mandatory Kindergarten

The Wichita Eagle calls for mandatory all-day kindergarten. (“Kids Need a Head Start,” August 20)

Kindergarten in Kansas schools shouldn’t be optional — unless our state considers academic success optional. Early childhood education has become a focus of school reform in recent years, in light of research showing how the first five years of a child’s brain development lay the groundwork for future success — or failure — in school and into adulthood.

Some kids who fall behind before first grade never catch up. And society pays the price in lower graduation rates, higher crime and social costs.

That’s why a proposal by state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, to require statewide kindergarten and lower the age of mandatory attendance from 7 to 6 deserves support in the next legislative session.

The days when kindergarten was just glorified baby-sitting are long over. Kindergartners typically begin work on several academic building blocks, such as how to use phonics, read base words, and count out loud up to 100. Studies show that kids who attended kindergarten are much more likely to be prepared for the challenges of first grade.

“Kindergarten is the foundation,” Topeka teacher Nancy Armstrong told lawmakers earlier this year. “Without it, first-grade test scores are a real struggle.”

Some members of the Amish Mennonite community have testified against the change, saying they want to keep control of when their kids start learning.

But a proposed religious exemption to the requirement should take care of this objection.

Many districts statewide — including Wichita’s — already offer all-day kindergarten. And most parents already enroll their kids in kindergarten. Not much would change there.

What the law would do, points out Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, a co-sponsor of the bill, is boost attendance for kindergartners.

Because kindergarten is now optional, some parents get the message that it’s no big deal if their kids stay home or skip days. But the learning that takes place in these early years is a big deal — as Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recognized this year in pushing her statewide pre-K initiative, which would make quality preschool available to all Kansas children.

The Legislature also should get behind the governor’s proposal last session to actually fund all-day kindergarten — at present, the state only pays districts for half-day K. Although some lawmakers balked at the initial $15 million price tag to phase in funding, this is a wise investment in the state’s kids and future work force.

Requiring kindergarten — and paying for it — sends the right message about Kansas’

Whatever happened to the idea that children belong to parents and not government, as espoused in the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Pierce v. Society of Sisters?

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