House bill to change the pre-K cut off date would be a step backward for children

Oklahoma was one of the first states in the nation to offer universal pre-kindergarten, and today 74 percent of all Oklahoma four-year-olds attend public pre-K. Oklahoma is a national leader in early childhood education, which builds a critical foundation for long-term academic success. Unfortunately, a bill this session could roll back this progress. Representative Johns, R-Ada, filed HB 2908, which would move cutoff dates for children entering pre-kindergarten (pre-K) from September 1 to July 1. If the bill passes, children would have to turn four by July 1 rather than September 1 to be eligible for pre-K. The change would make Oklahoma the only state to have a cutoff before July 31, and delay pre-K eligibility by a year for children who are two months shy of the new cutoff date. Last session, Senator McCortney, R-Ada, filed a similar bill that did not make it to a floor vote.

The proposed change could be harmful to low-income children who benefit from early childhood education. Moving the pre-K cutoff date would remove parental control over when to send their children to school and give parents less access to early childhood education. HB 2908 is counter to evidence-based practices that work for children.

Access to high-quality pre-K can help children overcome barriers 

In 1998, Oklahoma became the third state in the nation to offer free, voluntary universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-old children. Oklahoma’s education leaders understood that high-quality programs are essential to making gains in a state where a higher proportion of children live in poverty than most states in the nation.

Currently, 22 percent of Oklahoma children experience poverty and often face barriers that make it difficult to excel in school. Students from low-income families are 13 times less likely to graduate on time, and on average they are more likely to score below proficient in reading and math. Getting children into school early can significantly help students overcome obstacles related to poverty.

Early intervention is crucial for Oklahoma children 

While all children have access to free public pre-K in Oklahoma, the decision to send your child is voluntary. HB 2908 would restrict access to pre-K for parents who believe their children will benefit from entering pre-K as a “young” 4-year-old. Requiring that parents delay pre-K entrance does not mean that students will be more school-ready the following year. Families experiencing poverty sometimes lack the resources needed to fully equip young children for school.

Early interventions such as quality pre-K can significantly boost school readiness. Results from Tulsa’s pre-K program show that students who attend pre-K are more kindergarten ready (measured by higher cognitive, motor, and language skills) than their peers who just missed pre-K cut off dates and entered pre-K the following year. Interventions during the earliest years — especially for low-income students– is critical for long-term academic success.

Access to pre-K is good for Oklahoma’s economy 

Quality early childhood education can boost academic achievement in school and help more students get to and through college. This is why Oklahoma business leaders have supported quality early childhood education as a long-term strategy to ensure a skilled workforce. Expanding access to early learning in pre-K can have a positive long-term impact on economic growth and yield a significant return on investment. On average, every $1 invested in early learning has a 13 percent annual return. Restricting early access to early childhood education could diminish these returns and shortchange our long-term investments.

We should invest in the right supports for teachers 

HB 2908 could also cause unintended disruptions for educators in the short term. The cutoff changes would likely require school districts to reduce the number of pre-K teachers the year after the bill takes effect, and lose funding that year as well. While these teachers may be hired back the following year, it is unlikely that the disruption would lead to more positive student outcomes.

Pre-K teachers are tasked with immense challenges, and they need adequate support. Instead of delaying school, we should focus on equipping teachers with proper resources to meet student needs. All children enter school with varying abilities, and low-income students often need additional resources to help them overcome barriers. A thorough look into the challenges facing early education teachers would help identify the root cause of these concerns so that policy reform leads to better outcomes for children.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Fine joined OK Policy in July 2018 as the education policy analyst. Originally from New York, she began her career in education as an Oklahoma teacher. Rebecca proudly comes from a family of educators, and spent four years teaching middle school in Tulsa and Union Public Schools. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science from the University of Rochester and received an M.A. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

2 thoughts on “House bill to change the pre-K cut off date would be a step backward for children

  1. I understand your thought process about this, but as a teacher of more than 35 years, 21 of those in PreK, I completely disagree. Head Start is a program meant for intervention for children of low-income families. We are stealing the childhood of our children by sending them to school and expecting the school to fill all the gaps when these little ones aren’t developmentally ready to face the gaps. You can’t expect a child who is still three when she walks in the door to be ready to face the tasks and expectations you have for a four- or five- year old in that same class. And you can not force the advancement of developmental stages-they will develop naturally as the child grows and we work with that child at the stage they are in at the time they come to us. But sending them to us when they aren’t ready is exactly what we’ve been dealing with for the past couple of decades. You speak of removing parental control–isn’t that what sending them to school at age 3 or 4 is already doing? Let’s let parents be parents for at LEAST a full four year; let’s let kids be kids for at LEAST a full four years and let’s allow teachers to teach kids who are developmentally ready to be in a developmentally-appropriate environment. That’s when learning takes off and really, truly happens. When we allow kids to come to school who are too young to handle what is required (by mandate-not by trained teachers) we find ourselves trying to convince parents to allow their child to remain in that environment an extra year when they are not ready to move on to the next level, and the majority of the time, that child is pushed forward, ready or not, for reasons that are too numerous and varied to go into here. I am a huge advocate for changing the cutoff date.

  2. I understand that it sounds like it should be in a childs’ best interest to go to school as early as possible. I am, however, in complete agreement with the previous writer, a pre-K teacher. I have taught school for 13 years, 12 in 1st grade. Children who are not developmentally ready, suffer from pre-K right on up the ladder. I am always checking birthdates, observing children’s academic and emotional states. You cannot make a child develop, just by putting them in a classroom. Every child “blooms” at their own rate. It is hard on the child who is not ready to be in the classroom and frankly it can shortchange other children in the room who are developmentally ready to the take on the states’ academic standards. I too am a supporter of changing the cutoff date, though I would like to see it at least back to about April.

  3. I am a Pre-K teacher who has also worked in a public school collaboration with Head Start. I 100% agree with Kelie Grounds. I would also like to add that for 2 years, I have had students whose birthdays are 362 days apart. That means that I have had one who was still 3 when they began Pre-K and one who turned 5 the week after school started. That is an extreme difference in social-emotional and academic skills for a student to be expected to overcome. Not every teacher uses developmentally appropriate practice and can accommodate their students and their needs.

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