OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill changing when children can be enrolled in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten has passed a Senate committee.
Right now, a child must turn 4 years old before September 1 to start pre-K. For kindergarten, children must turn 5 years old before Sept. 1.
Senate Bill 11, authored by Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, changes the cut-off to August 1. It was originally filed as July 1, but it has since been amended. It passed the Senate education committee Tuesday morning by a vote of 9 to 5.
"I think this bill is all about making sure kids have the best chance to succeed in school. If they’re mature enough to actually sit and listen, they’re mature enough to learn then they’re going to succeed," McCortney said. "You talk to pre-K and kindergarten teachers, and they think this is the best bill they’ve seen in years."
Dr. Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma School Boards Association, said he commends McCortney for prompting the conversation; however, he said any bill that changes education needs to be carefully vetted.
The OSSBA said one of the concerns is the possible impact on early learners.
"We know, with brain science, there’s so much that happens with a child’s brain between birth and 4 and the things that we can do with those children educationally, so we want to look at that and talk to experts on that," Hime said. "Currently, it’s a parent’s decision. This one month window."
Hime said he has had conversations with McCortney regarding the bill and is hoping to speak with him about possible exemptions at a future meeting, particularly as it relates to students moving from other states.
"Most states in the nation starts in September, so what if a student comes to Tinker Air Force base or Vance Air Force base and they were in pre-K last year, which started on that September 1 date deadline? Finished pre-K, and come to Oklahoma and, by Oklahoma’s laws, and couldn’t legally go to kindergarten?" Hime said. "I think the most important thing is that we’re giving parents and students an option."
The bill is now eligible to be heard by the full Senate.