Kindergarten start age at issue |

Kindergarten start age at issue

Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

Trying to cut costs across the board, the Colorado state Legislature may have gone one step too far for area parents and educators.

Several provisions included in the 2004 Education Finance bill are being implemented this fall, the most controversial of which requires that children entering kindergarten be 5 years old by Oct. 1 for the school to receive state funding. A statute requiring first-graders to turn 6 years old by Oct. 1 will become effective next fall.

Debra Byers of Breckenridge disagrees with the age requirement.

“(The state) is saying, ‘We know when children are really ready for school,'” Byers said. “How can they possibly know when a child is ready for school? They’re saying that in this box they have to be born in that year in that class and that’s going to fit them. The state can’t know that.”

Byers has a 3-year-old daughter with an Oct. 9 birthday, eight days past the deadline. Byers said her daughter is progressing faster academically than her older sister, who is now in first grade after a successful year in kindergarten. Byers spoke with several Summit elementary teachers, who all agreed that her daughter will be ready for kindergarten next year, regardless of whether the state will fund her presence.

Like Byers, the schools feel like they have no options, but Vody Herrmann, Colorado’s director of public school finance, said the law isn’t forcing the districts to do anything.

“We’re not saying a school district can’t choose to serve those kids,” she said. “If they choose to, they just don’t get funded for them. There are rules and regulations that go along with everything in life.”

Children with birthdays after Oct. 1 who have completed kindergarten out of state and move to Colorado for first grade will only receive half of the funding that a child with a birthday before Oct. 1 would during that year. In following years, the funding amount would return to normal.

Summit Schools have not had any children born after Oct. 1 enrolled in the last three years, but advanced students are not uncommon.

One child was admitted past the deadline this year, with the district forgoing $6,970 in funding, the equivalent of roughly 34 cents per taxpayer.

Over the years, district curriculum director Rebecca Wilson said, the annual number of children with birthdays after Oct. 1 has varied but never exceeded students five in the district at one time.

Anticipating that the passage of Referenda C and D could free up sufficient funds for the state to relax the deadline, the Summit Board of Education is delaying final action until November, but it expressed great displeasure with the policy.

State Board of Education member Evie Hudak has heard plenty of grumblings herself.

“Oh, boy ” that’s a problem for a lot of people,” she said when asked of the issue. Some districts are just now learning of the policy and realizing that they won’t see any money for several of their already-enrolled students.

In April 2004, the Associated Press reported that the author of the bill, Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said moving the cutoff date from Sept. 1, where he had placed it, to Oct. 1 would cost the state $5 million.

“It was a short-term measure to save a little money,” Hudak said. “It’s only a one-year measure, because those kids will start school next year. I’m really hoping that when the state has a little breathing room it can consider restoring things.”

The argument for admitting gifted students with birthdays after Oct. 1 is ineffective, Herrmann said, because it involves so few children. On the other hand, Jan Davidson has spent much of her career dealing with that attitude.

Davidson and her husband Bob run the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, where gifted students learn at their own accelerated pace. The Davidsons are the authors of the book “Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds.”

Davidson said that children placed in an academic atmosphere below their level can suffer. Made to learn things they already know, the gifted develop extreme perfectionism, find school painfully boring and never develop the skills necessary to deal with challenges encountered later at college or in the workplace.

“If you want to learn more and you can’t it’s very frustrating,” Davidson said. “We lose as many gifted kids to dropping out of school as kids that are having trouble.”

Indeed, a 2000 educational pamphlet study found that 5 percent of the 3,520 gifted students studied dropped out of school after eighth grade, he same percentage of non-gifted students who dropped out.

“People think that smart kids are the ones that enjoy school ” not if they aren’t learning. Every child should learn in school, and if a child is ready to learn they should be allowed to go to kindergarten.”

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