Depending on where you live, your 5-year-old is not required to go to kindergarten. Legislation to change that, however, just passed in both the New York State Senate and Assembly.
The bill, if signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, would allow all New York schools to require children who live within their district to attend kindergarten when they turn five.
Currently, only a handful of districts do. Cohoes is one of them. Superintendent Jennifer Spring, along with Assemblyman John McDonald and Senator Neil Breslin, fought for the legislation back in 2017.
Spring said almost every family registers their child for kindergarten, but it’s getting them to show up throughout the school year that’s the issue.
“We have kindergartners who are missing 50, 60, 70, 80 days of kindergarten,” she said.
Under current state law, they technically do not have to show up until age six.
“You have to wait mostly until that student is in the spring semester of first grade, and at that point, you will have lost a year and a half of really crucial key learning,” Spring said.
She said those students have also developed bad habits, are more likely to fall behind, and potentially drop out.
“Being able to opt out is something that kids take with them,” said Superintendent Spring.
Spring said it’s not just Cohoes. Statewide statistics show chronic absenteeism.
“It’s so complicated as to why families don’t get their kids to school every day,” she explained. “Transportation may be one issue. There are mental health issues, parents not getting up on time, no routines in the house, no structure.”
If the bill passes, teachers and school officials would then be able to report a child’s lack of attendance to Child Protective Services. Spring said, speaking from experience, even that’s not working and suggests it may be time to look at a different strategy. Perhaps, she said, rather than a punitive approach, the state could offer families incentives.
“It could be through tax incentives, it could be something through social services, but I definitely think we need to be partners with our families,” she said.
Al Martin with the New York State School Board Association said: “The New York State School Boards Association supports the legislation which relates to allowing boards of education of every school district to require minors who are five years of age to attend kindergarten. Studies show that students who attend kindergarten are better prepared for school. All school districts in New York State that offer elementary school also offer kindergarten. Kindergarten should be treated as what it is, a critical part of the k-12 continuum. This change in policy would reinforce the importance of kindergarten, where important skills are taught.”
“They’re learning soft skills, social skills, 21st Century skills. They learn work ethic, they learn grit, they learn resiliency,” said Superintendent Spring.