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Legislator’s bill seeks to get state’s kids in school earlier

Posted on Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 3:52 pm

Bowling Green Elementary School students Emory Wilbanks and Sadie Richmond work on an assignment in their kindergarten classroom. The two students are in a class taught by Ms. Melanie Perkins. The assignment asks students to match the color most closely associated with certain words.

Local school district would likely see no impact from this legislation, but administrators say its passage would likely have positive impact on K-12 education in the state

 

By Ethan Colbert

bgted@lcs.net

A Missouri legislator is hoping to convince enough of his colleagues to vote in favor of his bill, which would lower the mandatory school enrollment age for Missouri’s children.

According to Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis), who is a former early childhood educator who spent eight years in the classroom, the state currently requires parents to enroll their child in a school system by 7-years-old. The parents may also notify the school district that they plan to seek alternative education, including parochial school or home schooling.

Mackey’s bill, which is House Bill No. 583, would lower the required age to 5 years. It wouldn’t change any part of the existing laws regarding parental rights to educate their children outside of a public school system.

Mackey said in an interview with the Times that waiting two years to start educating children actually hinders the educational process and the educational goals set by the local school district and the state’s department of education.

“If you have two children and one children has been enrolled in school since 5 years old and another is just starting at 7 years old then that child is jumping in late and is going to be left behind by the one who has already been in school for two years,” Mackey said.

Mackey said while he doesn’t have empirical data to back-up his claims, he does have the “anecdotal experience of hundreds of educators who work in early childhood education.”

“Every educator who I have spoken with, and this includes those in the classroom, in administration, and at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, say they are aware of this issue and that a change should be made,” Mackey said.

Among the educators acknowledging the issue raised by House Bill No. 583 are Bowling Green Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Frederickson and Bowling Green R-I Director of Elementary Education Stephanie Bailey.

Both Frederickson and Bailey said they don’t believe that, if this bill is passed, that there would be a significant change within the Bowling Green R-I School District.

“From what we can tell, we are getting close to 100 percent of our students enrolled in kindergarten by that time,” Frederickson said. The local school official said he was paying attention to this bill because “it is hard to find issues that are more important to me than early childhood education.”

Bailey said she believes Bowling Green R-I School District parents recognized the importance of early childhood education more than 26 years ago when the school district started its first half-day kindergarten program.

“Kindergarten is so beyond any sort of glorified babysitting,” Bailey said. “Students come into kindergarten and they are learning how to write their letters, the sounds of letters, forming sentences, basic math facts, and so many other basic learning skills.”

Currently the school district offers a full-day kindergarten program at both Frankford and Bowling Green Elementary schools and four pre-kindergarten classes at the Bowling Green campus.

Frederickson and Bailey said the district’s leaders are trying to ensure, by expanding programs, that all Bowling Green R-I School District students are reading at grade-level by the time they leave their respective third-grade classrooms.

“I was in the pre-kindergarten classrooms earlier today and Mrs. Kraft was already working with the students about recognizing different letters and the sounds that they make,” Bailey said. “If we had a student, who had not been in school, but who came to us at 7 years old and didn’t have that knowledge then it becomes so much more difficult for us to ever get them caught up to their peers.”

Not reading at grade-level by the end of third-grade can lead children to continue to struggle throughout upper elementary, middle school and high school grade levels, according to Bailey.

Perspectives from educators such as Bailey and Frederickson is what Mackey says will hopefully push his bill out of committee and across the finish line in both chambers of the General Assembly and on to the desk of Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

“I am particularly aware that I am a freshman member of a minority party in the General Assembly, but I see this as beginning a conversation, a very large conversation, about the future of early childhood education in the state of Missouri,” Mackey said. “Hopefully this is an issue that I can build support with people across the aisle.”