In June, Governor Ned Lamont signed a law requiring all incoming Kindergartners to be 5 before entering Kindergarten. Previously, students needed to turn 5 by January 1st; starting in 2024, they must have their birthday by September 1st (aka the first day of school).
Overall, teachers are pleased with the change, citing that Kindergarten is similar to what first grade used to be, requiring more advanced literacy, writing proficiency and stamina than it did years ago, and offering less opportunities for play-based learning. But working parents, particularly those without the financial resources to pay for an additional Pre-K year, are among the critics of the new bill.
To help answer a few questions we’ve been hearing from other local moms, we sat down with Connecticut State Senator Ryan Fazio to discuss the new law. While he is not on the Education Committee that crafted it, he did vote for it as part of a larger education reform bill. Here’s what he said:
This is big news for parents in CT. What are your thoughts on it?
I understand the reasoning, because of the difference [in existing cut-offs] between public and private school kids. Now, they’ll be the same age throughout their schooling, including applying to college. Unfortunately, it will also be a challenge for those who now have to pay for that extra year of daycare, preschool or nursery school.
We’ve read that most of the country has a September 1 cut-off date – were we the outlier before?
Yes, it’s a path most of the states are on, that you’re 5 by the time you’re entering Kindergarten. Social science shows that kids that enter K before 5 are struggling to keep up on average. This is why so many states have gone in that direction in addition to private schools [in CT].
What will happen if for any reason a family wants to send their 4-year-old to K?
Now, it will be the default in public schools [to hold them], but if the child will turn 5 after the start of school, a parent can petition for an exemption. Again, while most of the social science shows that this is the preferred age for most kids, parents still have the option to petition their school’s administration to allow their child to go. The new policy is effective next year, but you can start talking to the school where your child will eventually matriculate now.
What has the response been so far from your constituents?
I’ve heard from a handful of parents, most of whom are not happy with the law change, which is understandable – if they’re happy they’re not reaching out. I will be sharing more information through my email distribution for clarification. Most [parents that reached out] wanted to know about the system of petitioning to send their child at four.
What is your response to those parents concerned about affording Pre-K or another year of daycare?
I have discussed some ideas with colleagues about how to make childcare more affordable. Connecticut has the strictest childcare restrictions [which contributes to its expense]. For instance, providers need an Associate’s degree and we have the strictest faculty to child ratios in the country. We need a balance of affordability, accessibility and quality in early childhood education.
What about universal Pre-K – is that something you support?
I don’t know any states that have successfully implemented universal Pre-K. Head Start is a program that still exists but the success results have been mixed.
It’s important that we have smart, well-thought out policies to make childcare and early childhood programs accessible. Figuring out how to do it is difficult but needs to be a priority, especially with this reform.
Anything else you’d like parents to know about education in our state and town?
My disappointment, and I talked on June 1st for an hour on the floor about this, is that the state government hadn’t shown positive leadership on academic achievement. There has been a well-documented fall off on academic achievement during COVID, especially affecting low-income kids. But Connecticut saw tests scores starting to fall off even before COVID. I went to public schools in Greenwich and they’re great, but we can be better statewide. It’s a very complex, but important topic.
Do you think the physical state of our schools is affecting the academic outcomes? For instance, Central Middle School?
If schools are falling apart that’s unacceptable. The biggest factor in [academic achievement in schools] is the principal and teachers, but Central Middle School and Old Greenwich School must be priorities to rebuild or renovate. The state does make it difficult and expensive to rebuild these schools, and those regulations that make it more costly need to be changed.
The focus of our conversation has been about education, but your tenure in the senate has focused on energy. Can you share a bit about what you’ve been working on?
I made energy reform and utilities oversight a priority this term. We saw huge increases in electricity costs which hurts people on a fixed income, like low income and elderly residents. Making the utility companies more responsive to consumers was also a top priority.
Early on I worked with my Democratic counterpart on the committee to avoid making this issue a political football and aim for bipartisan compromise. We spent 5 months writing and passing Senate Bill #7, which focused on making the utilities more accountable and energy slightly more reliable in the long run.
If anyone has additional questions for you how should they reach out?
My email is email [email protected] or you can DM me on Instagram @ryanfazioct.