ATLANTA — A bill to raise the age that children must reach before entering kindergarten in Georgia passed the state House on Thursday but appears to face an uncertain future in the Senate.
The measure was approved by a 110-53 vote but could have a more difficult time getting the Senate's approval because of opposition from many parents and some child advocacy groups.
The bill would require children to reach the age of 5 years on or before Aug. 1 to enroll in kindergarten for the 2017-18 school year. The cutoff date would be July 1 for children entering school in the 2018-19 year. The current cutoff date is Sept. 1.
Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, said the new dates could result in a drop in kindergarten enrollment and possibly a reduction in teachers in some schools as a consequence. He also said parents may have to pay for child care due to new dates.
Mindy Bitterman, executive director of the Georgia Early Educators Alliance for Ready Students, said she was disappointed because the bill's sponsors and proponents wrongly think older children will be more prepared.
"But the science and research tell us that children learn the most from birth to five," she said. "That is when their brains are forming at the most rapid rate. To take advantage of that they need to have high quality learning experiences throughout those early years.
Jimmy Stokes, an official of the Georgia Association of Education Leaders, said he supported change in the school eligibility age because it will give younger children more time to mature before they start school.
"Those whose birthdays fall between July 1 and Sept. 1, if this bill were not put in place, they would be the youngest in their class and make them the least mature in every way. This bill gives those students more chance for success if they have another year of maturity."
During House committee hearings, some parents expressed anger that the new start dates could have financial repercussions. Parents would have to pay for child care for children too young for public school.
"I hope and trust that our Senate will do the right thing and vote this down," said Natalie D. Ferreri of Atlanta. "It does not solve a problem. I am disappointed and truly feel that this cutoff date change is completely unnecessary, regardless of the implementation date."
She said the "real problem" is that Georgia has no pre-K program for all, "including the disadvantaged throughout our state, without a lottery."