The Alabama Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday voted to carry over controversial legislation requiring that 6-year-olds who arrive in first grade without having kindergarten skill be required to spend a year in kindergarten before they can be admitted to the first grade.
House Bill 423 is sponsored by State Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee.
Under current law, kindergarten is not required. This law would make it mandatory. Students who attend state kindergarten would be admitted into first grade without taking an entering first-grade competency test, but a child who did not attend kindergarten would be required to pass the competency test.
Failure to pass the test would mean that the child is placed with the 5-year-olds in kindergarten rather than their 6-year-old peers, many of which are in their third year of school having previously completed kindergarten and pre-K.
Warren said that every public school in the state offers free kindergarten now and yet there are between 4,000 and 5,000 children a year who arrive in first grade without having ever attended kindergarten. Warren estimated that about half of those children were in private kindergartens somewhere or were home-schooled, but about half arrive without the skills that children who attended kindergarten have already received.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, asked: “What do we do with children that show up that are not prepared?”
Warren said that those children would receive extra help to get caught up while they were spending their year in kindergarten.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, asked: “What is going to mandate that the system do that, especially in schools with ten mills? That happens in the ideal world, but I am dealing with what goes on in the real world.”
Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, said: “I am very concerned how we are going to handle that child who has had a home that does not have the resources for them to achieve at a first-grade level.”
“That child will be in the kindergarten curriculum,” Warren said.
Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said: “We are correcting their parent’s inaction. We are not going to put you in a position to fail instead of catching it in the third grade and making them repeat then.”
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said: “We want to keep everyone in their lane: pre-k, kindergarten, and first grade. If they show up for first grade and are not ready they will do the kindergarten program.”
Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, has an amendment to the bill that would require that the test that is given to measure competency to enter first grade be a standardized test rather than a teacher-made skills test.
Warren objected saying: “If they use a standardized test that would add cost to this thing versus the teachers making their own test.”
Melson, who chairs the Senate Education Policy Committee, said: “We are going to carry this bill over and continue to work on it.”
Smitherman seconded the motion. The motion to carry over HB423 was adopted unanimously.
According to the synopsis, HB423 amends the “Code of Alabama 1975, relating to the minimum age for attendance at public schools; to require a child who is five years of age on or before September 1 to enroll in kindergarten.” The bill also provides “for circumstances under which a child who is under five years of age on September 1 may be admitted to public kindergarten.”
The Education Policy Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet next on April 1. Thursday will be day 16 of the 2021 Legislative Session.