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Oklahoma Senate consider bill modifying date children must turn certain ages to attend certain grades

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers in the Oklahoma Senate will consider a bill modifying the date children must turn certain ages to attend certain grades.

Senate Bill 1020, proposed by Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, passed an education committee Monday morning. Currently, in Oklahoma, children attending preschool must turn 4 years old before September 1 that school year and 5 years old for kindergarten.

Under McCortney’s bill, the age requirement would be moved back to August 1.

“What we expect from kindergartners and first graders is so much more than what we expected of them when I was growing up,” McCortney said. “There’s studies across the nation that show kids that are old for their grade graduate high school at a much higher percentage than kids that are young for their grade.”

The idea behind the measure came from a constituent. Janel Manuel is a kindergarten teacher at Homer Elementary School in Ada. Manuel said she’s seen the negative efforts of children attending school when they’re younger than their peers.

“They are definitely more immature developmentally wise. A lot of times, these are students that we end up retaining or we hold them back in kindergarten or pre-k because they are not ready to go to next grade level,” Manuel said. "In one school year, in just one class, that may happen with as many as one to two to even three students in a classroom​."

If signed into law, McCortney said Oklahoma's Department of Education would be subject to a one-time fiscal impact, because computer programming would change to reflect the new reporting structure. It would cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

"Currently, that computer bases a lot of the report it runs off of kids who have September birthdays. They’ll need to change all of that reporting structure to be August birthday, instead of September," he told News 4.

The bill received one vote in opposition at an education committee hearing Monday. Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, said she’s concerned about the “disproportionate effect” it would have on lower-income families and their children.

“Those kids are going to be sitting at home and being told there’s not a program, there’s not space for them. That sort of thing,” Ikley-Freeman said. “In a scenario where we’ve funded early education a little more, pre-k programs… I would absolutely support this bill.”

The bill now moves onto the full Senate floor for consideration. McCortney said it will be done before the middle of March. Until then, he said they will consider suggestions to the bill including whether local districts should be able to set their own dates or if there should be a test parents can have their children take to determine whether they are ready for school.

Both options, according to McCortney, have feasibility and cost factors.