Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, 5-year-olds in the 34,000-student Buffalo district will be required to enroll in full-day kindergarten classes, the Buffalo News reports.
New York is among the six states—along with Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—with no state mandate to districts to provide kindergarten. (Many school districts choose to offer the grade anyway, funding it through local revenue sources or charging fees to parents.)
Buffalo, like many districts in the state, currently offers kindergarten, but children are not required to enroll in public school until they turn 6. That policy has led to some children starting school far less prepared than others, school board member John Licata told the newspaper. Also, the students who do attend kindergarten have tended to have spotty attendance records—almost half of the district’s kindergarten students missed 20 percent or more of the school year, said interim superintendent Will Keresztes.
The school officials also hope that mandatory kindergarten will prompt interest in preschool; the district plans to go after money for preschool expansion that was approved by state legislators earlier this year.
The article exposes an interesting issue that is not a common element of the conversation about early-childhood education: Kindergarten offerings nationwide are by no means uniform. C.J. Libassi, who worked on the early education policy team at the Washington-based New America Foundation, recently explored the patchwork of state policies on kindergarten with a particular focus on Arizona, which increased funding to establish full-day kindergarten under then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, only to see that funding eliminated under Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican.
“As federal and state leaders focus much of their attention on expanding pre-K programs, the limited availability of free, full-day kindergarten largely continues to be overlooked,” Libassi wrote. “However, the ultimate successes of pre-K programs will depend in no small part on continuity in the early grades.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.