Optional day kindergarten bill held up in Senate
Optional extended-day kindergarten could become a reality in Utah schools if Senate Bill 49 passes the Legislature but the bill’s future is uncertain. The proposed bill would allow school districts and charter schools to provide voluntary extended-day kindergarten, administered by the State Board of Education.
The extended-day kindergarten would provide at least as many instructional hours per school year as first grade. Students would not be required to participate in the program.
The bill is in the Senate after its first reading, where the bill sponsor, Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard, R-Dist 25, said it is being held up by the education chairman who has refused to put it on the agenda. "I haven’t panicked yet, because there are other ways to handle it. I’m just waiting for meetings between the Governor and the legislative leadership as to what they want to do. It’s really an important one for the Governor and it’s an important one for me. There will be a lot of debate and issues about it, but hopefully it will pass."
The four Park City elementary schools already have a limited full-day kindergarten in place. According to Lori O’Connor, McPolin Elementary School principal, the program is working well.
"To the child, it means a less hurried day. To the teachers, it means they are not pressured to put all of the academics in two-and-one-half hour instruction day. To the school overall, it means teachers have more time in a day. Children are coming to them with more in their backpack of learning."
Paul Mero, the president of The Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank, said As long as it’s clear the bill is limited in scope, we’re fine with that. We’re concerned it might grow into mandatory universal programs." Mero said that most Utah kids do better in a home environment when they are young, and that the children don’t need socialization at early ages.
"Historically, early education programs work best with parents who are struggling, possibly a single mother," Mero said. "That’s exactly the kind of service public schools should be providing. Not all children should be thrown in the same basket. We don’t believe one size fits all."
"We certainly recognize there are parents who want kids to have time to be kids, so the half-day option is nice for them to have as well." O’Connor said. But she added, " third, fourth and fifth-grade our students have to be prepared to meet No Child Left Behind, head on. The time we spend in earlier grades requires less time is spent in intervention when children get older. Research has shown that if children are not reading at grade level by the end of second grade, the likelihood of their reading at grade level after that is significantly diminished without major one-on-one intervention." O’Connor ended with, "You know what this is all about? It’s really about slowing down and taking time for the little people."
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