Lawmakers consider changing kindergarten eligibility

Proponents say SB102 will help ensure that more students are intellectually, socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten, which today involves prolonged periods of sitting still and mandatory standardized testing. (Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels)
Proponents say the bill will help ensure that more students are intellectually, socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten, which today involves prolonged periods of sitting still and mandatory standardized testing. (Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels)

Children born in August and September may have to wait longer to enroll in public kindergarten, if a new bill passes the Nevada State Legislature.

Under existing law, children must be 5 years old by Sept. 30 in order to enroll in kindergarten that same calendar year. School year start dates vary by district and charter school, but they typically begin around the second week in August.

That means a 4-year-old could start kindergarten and turn 5 years old almost a quarter of the way into the school year.

State Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) wants to change that, pointing to a significant body of research connecting better academic, social and emotional outcomes to older kindergarteners compared to younger ones. Hammond is sponsoring Senate Bill 102, which, in its current form, would move the kindergarten enrollment eligibility birthdate up eight weeks — to Aug. 7.

SB102 unanimously passed the Senate on April 10 and received its first hearing in the Assembly Education Committee on Tuesday. No action was taken.

Hammond told the committee he is planning on introducing an amendment that would remove the Aug. 7 hard cutoff date entirely and instead tie kindergarten enrollment eligibility to a student being “age 5 by the start of the school year.” That would allow enrollment eligibility to fluctuate with each academic year.

The current kindergarten eligibility cutoff date was set by the Legislature in 2010. That year, Aug. 30 was the first day of classes at CCSD.

Since then, the beginning of the academic school year has crept earlier on the calendar. In 2017, prompted by a desire to have students complete mandatory testing before winter break, CCSD pushed up the beginning of their school year by two weeks — to mid-August.

The upcoming 2021-22 academic year will begin Aug. 9.

Proponents say SB102 will help ensure that more students are intellectually, socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten, which today involves prolonged periods of sitting still and mandatory standardized testing.

Somerset Academy Skye Canyon Principal Kate Lackey, who presented the bill with Hammond, said 44% of 4-year-old students enrolled at her school over the last three years qualified for Read By Grade 3 or Response To Intervention — two supplementary educational programs with learning or behavioral needs. She believes those students would have benefitted from an additional year of development before entering the formal academic setting.

Lawmakers on the committee shared their personal experiences navigating the kindergarten cutoff for their children. Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles noted her daughter was both the youngest and tallest student in her kindergarten class. She said she believed delaying kindergarten would have created “another set of social issues.”

Tolles suggested adding a waiver of some sort.

Hammond responded that school districts believe waivers would be logistically unfeasible. He acknowledged that some parents will feel their child is ready to enter kindergarten at age 4 but that public policy must look at what is best for the most children.

“We can’t contemplate the outliers,” he added.

SB102 received support from the Nevada State Education Association and Nevada Families for Freedom, two groups typically in disagreement on education policy.

In their letter of support, NSEA noted that lawmakers “should also refocus on the importance of the pre-K years to ensure there are meaningful pre-K opportunities for all Nevada children.”

Nevada public schools have been required to offer kindergarten since 2017. Public pre-K programs are not mandated, and publicly subsidies only reach a fraction of those who are eligible.

In a letter of opposition, educator Selena La Rue Hatch noted the bill could cause economic hardship for families who were planning to enroll their August or September 4-year-old in kindergarten and avoid an additional year of private daycare costs.

“So many families, like mine, have been carefully planning our finances around the fact that our children can begin school during a specific school year,” she wrote.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.