Pro-teacher proposal for pre-K and Kindergarten readiness pending in Senate conference committee
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Published: 13-May-2011

State Rep. Dennis Johnson, a Duncan Republican, has restated his strong support for House Bill 1465, legislation he is co-sponsoring with state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, also a Republican. The measure, based on requests from classroom teachers, would shift by two months the so-called “cutoff date” for children entering pre-K and Kindergarten programs in Oklahoma.

Speaker of the House Kris Steele has backed the measure, which prevailed 78-16 in his chamber, and passed on a unanimous 45-0 vote in its first go-round in the upper chamber. Moving through the process after minor revisions, it cleared House conference this week.

Today (Friday, May 13), Rep. Johnson said, “I hope the Senate conference committee will agree with the overwhelming amount of legislators who have voted for this bill. It is a reform that must be passed to help our students, teachers and families.”

When CapitolBeatOK asked the Speaker about the measure’s status during his Friday evening discussion with reporters, Steele commented, “I have not had any conversation with the Senate side about that issue. I know it had support in both houses. I talked to Rep. Johnson briefly on that on the floor today and will speak with him again. All I know for certain is that it is pending with in the Senate conference process.”

Earlier this week, H.B. 1465 was advanced with no opposition from the House Education Conference panel. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK on Friday, staff reiterated on behalf of Rep. Johnson, “Children not born by July 1 could still enroll in pre-K or Kindergarten with a simple screening.” 

Johnson himself said, “The intent of this bill is to make sure the students who are enrolling in kindergarten classes are prepared to be there. We’re seeing strong indications that growing numbers of Oklahoma kindergarteners aren’t quite ready to begin the kindergarten learning process. Waiting until these students are prepared is the best thing for the students, the teachers and the families.”

Johnson explained the bill is intended to help “summer babies” – children born between July and September. They usually are the youngest in their class and often, in the experience of classroom teachers, are those who fall behind during early education years.

Johnson continued, “With these younger children, a couple months of development can make an enormous difference in their readiness for the rigors of schools. It is harmful to a child’s academic development if they begin their learning process behind the older children in their class, and the teachers I have heard from are seeing this every year in their classes.”

Rep. Johnson stressed the legislation came after two years of careful study and development. 

In layman’s terms, the proposal would move the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten “cutoff date” from September 1 to July 1. As a practical matter, that would mean a child would have to be four by July 1 to enter Pre-K programs, and/or five years old by July 1 to enter kindergarten. 

Sponsors developed the proposal to allow a screening process for students who do not meet the chronological cutoff date, but who might be ready for school in developmental terms. 

In the words of a knowledgeable analyst interviewed by CapitolBeatOK, H.B. 1465 would mean “students are slightly older when beginning school, increasing their level of readiness to grasp necessary concepts and likely reducing discipline and remediation problems.”

The legislation emerged at the request of Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), a statewide non-union association for teachers. The group is based in Norman.

In statutory terms, the new text would, if passed in the Legislature and signed by the governor, amend state law (70 O.S. 2001, Section 1-114) to provide, “A child who has reached the age of four (4) years after July 1 but on or before September 1 shall be entitled to attend an early childhood program if the child has been screened and determined to be ready to enroll in an early childhood program, using a readiness screening procedure approved by the school district and paid for by the parent or guardian.”

The measure also reads, “A child who has reached the age of five (5) years after July 1 but on or before September 1 shall be entitled to enroll in kindergarten if the child has been screened and determined to be ready to enroll in a kindergarten, using a readiness screening procedure approved by the school district and paid for by the parent or guardian.”

The law makes a similar time shift for first graders, “A child who has reached the age of six (6) years after July 1 but on or before September 1 shall be entitled to enroll in first grade if the child has been screened and determined to be ready to enroll in first grade, using a readiness screening procedure approved by the school district and paid for by the parent or guardian.” 

Further to bolster the case for his bill, Rep. Johnson pointed to the comments of Kindergarten classroom teachers, gathered by POE. 

“It really hurts a child’s confidence when everyone else can do it and developmentally they just cannot,” one teacher wrote in a survey.

Another teacher’s impassioned plea was: “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE move this birthdate law forward! EVERYONE will benefit from this. Students will have a better self-esteem and confidence…Teachers will be better able to focus on the core curriculum issues and true teaching.”

Still another working teacher wrote: “Children need time to mature. It is something that cannot be rushed.”

Among teachers who responded to a POE membership survey, 96.7 of teachers believed the cutoff date should move from September 1 to July 1. 

Johnson said, “Kindergarten teachers are struggling with children who are simply not ready for school. This bill was requested by these kindergarten teachers. Their judgment is sound on this issue because they are the ones on the ground in classrooms statewide.”

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