Parents upset over law changing kindergarten start date

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Many parents say they are shocked and angry over a change in a state law that will affect every preschooler who is ready to enter kindergarten.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2571, which repealed the later school start date. In that bill was a section that changed the cut off birth date for kindergarten eligibility from September first to August first. That change has many parents upset and superintendents worried.

Four-year-old Kayleigh Smith knows her colors, shapes, numbers and letters. Her mom was looking forward to enrolling Kayleigh in kindergarten in Harrison County next year, until she found out late last week that Kayleigh won't be eligible.

"I was looking through Facebook and saw it and was in total shock. It's affecting so many students that are ready to start school this year," said Candace Smith.

The new law moves the date that qualifies a child for kindergarten up a month. So now, children whose fifth birthday falls after August first will have to wait a year to start kindergarten. Since Kayleigh's birthday is August 27, she will have to go back to preschool.

"Preschool is really, really expensive for parents and we don't qualify for anything like Headstart of anything. So it's really hard for us," said Smith.

"I think it caught everybody off guard," said Harrison County Superintendent Henry Arledge.

According to Arledge, right now, 117 kindergartners in his district have birthdays in August. If he loses the same amount of students next year, that translates to a $475,000 cut in state funding.

Arledge said the new law also impacts who gets to move on to first grade. Kindergartners must now turn six on or before August 1 in order to enter first grade. He doesn't know what will happen to the 117 kindergartners in Harrison County who don't qualify.

"I feel like something surely will be done for those students that have been in the school district already. They're ready to go to first grade," said Arledge. "I think what probably should have happened is the law should be adjusted to have started two years from now instead of immediately."

Candace Smith said the changes will hold Mississippi students back instead pushing them to succeed.

"I'm very upset about it. Our children's education should be first and foremost before anything. The country is trying to legalize marijuana and we're trying to set our kids back another year from starting their education. It's not fair to our children," said Smith.

"I'm hoping somebody in the legislature will change their mind, and hopefully, back this out for the children of Mississippi," she added.

An official with the state Department of Education told WLOX News Monday that the agency is working with state lawmakers in hopes of amending or repealing that section of the law.

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